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92 D395 
Denis, Armand 

On safari; the story of my 
life. N.r, 9 Button, 1963. 

320p illus., maps (on lining 
papers ) 

Kansas city IIH public library 

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NEW YORK: E. P. BUTTON & CO., INC.: 1963 

Copyright, , 1963 by Armand Denis 
All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. 


No part of this book may be reproduced in any 
form without permission in writing from the pub- 
lisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote 
brief passages in connection with a review written 
for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-20649 

To Michaela 

1 Novice page 13 

2 A Hot Tortoise 27 

3 Escape to Bali 3<5 

4 An Interlude with. Snakes 45 

5 "Wild Cargo" 55 

6 Expedition to the Congo 69 

7 Elephants of the Congo 83 

8 The Camp of the Pygmies 95 

9 The Four-Tusked Elephant 109 

10 Destination Lhasa 122 

11 Nepal I3I 

12 Close up of Lions 139 

13 The Pride Departs 148 

14 A Farm for Chimpanzees 157 

15 A Rumour of Gorillas 170 

1 6 The First Capture 182 

17 The Fight in the Forest 190 
1 8* Death in Matadi 203 

19 Okapi 220 

20 Savage Splendour 233 

21 Michaela 248 

22 The Last of the Head-hunters 261 

23 Return to Africa 279 

24 A Television Series is made 293 

25 Outlook for the Animals 306 



To chapters i 7 between pages 48 and 49 

To chapters 7 n 96 and 97 

To chapters 12 14 144 and 145 

To chapters 15 18 192 and 193 

To chapters 19 20 224 and 225 

To chapters 21 23 256 and 257 

To chapters 23 24 288 and 289 

To chapters 24 25 304 and 305 

The Americas and Africa front endpaper 

Africa and the East back endpaper 


I WOULD like to thank here the people who have helped 
me with the production of this book. 

The majority of the photographs were taken by me 
or by my associates, principally among them Des Bartlett. 
For others I am indebted as follows: to Mr. E. O. Hoppe 
for the pictures of Bali between pages 48 and 49; to the 
Explorers Club, New York, and Mr. H. W. Kitchen for 
the photograph of the four-tusked elephant skull between 
pages 96 and 97; to Alfred Gregory and Camera Press 
Ltd. for the pictures of Nepal between pages 96 and 
97; and to Mr. W. Suschitzky for the study of the gorilla 
opposite page 192. 

Above all I would like to thank John Pearson for 
invaluable help in the writing of this book. 


i Novice 

IT IS late and the house is asleep. Tonight I had to drive the 
twelve and a half miles out to Nairobi airport to get the final film 
for our current television series on to the Friday night Comet, 
which stops here on its way from Johannesburg to London. In a few 
hours it will be unloaded at London Airport. For us another period 
of work will be over, and we will be free for a few weeks before 
our next expedition to the jungles of Suriname. Despite this I am 
restless to-night and although it is after midnight I cannot sleep. 

As I drove in from the road the moon was so bright I could see 
my house with its long white veranda outlined against the great 
plain beyond and the mauve of the Ngong hills heavy along the 
horizon. A jackal was barking in the distance. Frogs were echoing 
from the small stream beyond the track, and now as I sit here in the 
long room at the back of the house that I use as my office and 
film-cutting room, I can still hear them. It is the sort of noise you 
never forget, and I find it one of the things I miss when I am away 
from Africa for long. 

For the last eight years we have lived here, Michaela and I, 
using this house as a base for our different journeys around the world. 
I, who for years have had a horror of houses, finally possess a house 
of my own. I, who still believe the tent and the hotel to be two o 
man's most sacred inventions, designed this house myself and 
watched it being built. For eight years it has been our headquarters; 
the place where we have planned our films and television pro- 
grammes, stocked our expeditions, kept our animals and returned 
to edit our films. 

It is an unusual place. Our garden consists of twenty-five acres 



of wooded hillside, the sort of forest that once covered vast areas of 
East Africa and apart from clearing a few paths we have left it as it 
was so that there are still wild orchids growing on our trees and at 
night leopards prowl by the river. It is a place of shade and silence. 
Zebra and antelope visit us and sometimes we wake to find a 
giraffe outside our bedroom window. 

The house seems to suit the animals we have collected as well. 
At the moment, Michaela has a mongoose sleeping on the veranda, 
and the big ant-eater, the three cheetahs and the four Rhodesian 
Ridgeback dogs all seem more at ease with a roof over their heads 
than I do. 

For me, the real advantages of our house begin when we leave 
it. At a moment's notice we can be off to almost anywhere we want 
in Africa. To the north-west we can reach Entebbe on the shores 
of Lake Victoria in a day's good driving. Mombasa and the Indian 
Ocean lie a day away to the east. Three days to the west are the 
forests and mountains of the Congo and to the south we can head 
for the rich game areas of Amboseli and Tanganyika. 

During the last eight years that has been the pattern of our lives 
loading the cars, driving off on safari, filming, and then working 
against the deadline of that Friday night plane to have our pro- 
grammes ready for delivery to London. Television is a hungry 
medium and that film I delivered to-night was the eighty-fourth 
we have made since we started here. It seems impossible to believe 
that we have made so many, but there they are, stacked against the 
wall opposite me, all neatly labelled and piled in their flat film cans 
along the shelves. 

A few of the titles catch my eye, reminding me of the incredible 
richness of this continent. "Baby Crocodiles at Murchison Falls," 
"Lassoing Rhino," "Baboons feeding on Water Lilies," "Pygmies 
of the Ituri Forest." The variety of Africa is inexhaustible and 
although I have spent so much of my life with my cameras seeking 
out and recording the wonders of the place, I am continually being 
reminded of what remains to be found. A single lifetime is not 

Not that I can grumble at my life ; I have seen things no one will 
ever see again. I have taken the chances the world offered and the 



world has been kind to me. But as I look back, my life seems to 
take on a pattern I had never expected, a pattern formed by what 
has been happening to wild life throughout the world. It is only 
this that makes me think my story is worth telling, for already I am 
something of a survivor. Already I feel like one of the few remain- 
ing witnesses of a cataclysm, the cataclysm that has swept Africa 
and is sweeping the world wherever there is wild life still to be 
found. It is this that has caught me and changed me and made me 
what I am. 

I have had two great passions in my life travel and animals. 
As a young man, I went wherever I could, excited, enthusiastic, 
naively imagining that the wonders of the animals I saw would last 
for ever. Time taught me it would not. In the last few years I have 
realised that the animals I filmed were already precarious inhabitants 
of a world rapidly closing in on them. Place after place where I 
went before the war I now refuse to return to, knowing that the 
tribes and the animals I saw there once have vanished. The freedom 
and splendour I marvelled at barely preceded their death agony. 

That is why this story of my life, although it is a record of 
enjoyment, the story of a man doing the one thing he really wanted 
to do, is something else as well. I have not just been a spectator 
but a witness, and I have watched thirty years of destruction. Another 
thirty years like those I have seen and almost everything I describe 
in this book will be a thing of the past. Generations will be born 
that will curse us for the vandalism with which, in one short century, 
we have squandered the wild life it took fifty million years to perfect. 

I described myself as a witness. To make clear what sort of witness 
I am it is appropriate to adopt the method I would use with any 
other animal and describe my species and my habitat. 

The first thing that people who know me remark on is the 
contrast between my birth and upbringing and the life I have led 
ever since. My father was a judge in Antwerp. He was a good judge, 
a good Catholic and the most devoted family manlhave ever known. 
We always spoke French at home but both my father and mother 
were of Flemish stock, and on both sides of the family the relatives 
I remember were amply endowed with the traditional characteristics 



of all true Flemings. They were tough, stolid, obstinate, long- 
lived people, with a strong sense of individuality and a marked 
tendency to become characters in their old age. There were no less 
than three generals in the immediate family; one of them, General 
Henri Denis, was also Belgium's Minister of War, and, alas, a 
firm believer in the impregnability of the Maginot Line. There 
was my first cousin, Marguerite Denis, who had the strength of will 
to marry a young Chinese student she met at the university at 
Brussels, and to follow him to Chungking, where for many years she 
was the only white woman living in the immense Chinese province 
of Szechwan. Their daughter, who became Han Suyin the novelist, 
is thus my first cousin once removed. 

I myself was bom in Brussels but the family moved to Antwerp 
soon afterwards so that I found myself brought up in one of the 
tightest, most rigid middle-class societies in Europe. Not that I was 
unhappy as a child. Quite the reverse. I was particularly fond of 
my mother and certainly did not object to the somewhat unrelenting 
routine of the Jesuit school in Antwerp where I was fed a solid diet 
of Latin and Greek, befitting the son of an Antwerp judge. I 
learned easily and seem to have been a surprisingly obedient pupil. 

To-day I find it hard to believe that a world such as the one I 
grew up in could ever have existed. With its security and its narrow- 
mindedness, its taboos and obligations, its profound sense of what 
could be done and what could not, it has sunk almost without trace. 
Yet there are times even to-day, when I seem to catch myself re- 
acting unconsciously against it all. 

For example, my father, who was something of a puritan and a 
stern disciplinarian, decided early on that my sister and I were to be 
kept rigidly away from anything that could defile our childish 
innocence. So with typical zed he went through every book in the 
house that contained pictures of primitive races. When he saw a 
picture of a bare-breasted woman he would either cut the whole 
page out or else clothe the unfortunate lady with a blot of ink. In 
the same way, although my sister and I were devoted to animals 
almost as soon as we could walk, the one part of the Antwerp Zoo 
forbidden to us was the monkey house, for fear that we might pick 
up dangerous information from the animals. 



Yet despite, or perhaps because of this, I seem to have spent some 
of the happiest years of my life with primitive races and have always 
had a particular affection for monkeys. 

But when I think of those early years in Antwerp, I am struck 
by the way the seeds of my later career were clearly planted in my 
early boyhood. My mother once told me that I shared my first 
active interest in animals at the age of three when she found me 
breeding flies in a matchbox, and it was certainly while I was 
still very young that I picked up the obsessions for travel and for 
collecting animals that have been with me ever since. In a way, the 
two interests developed together. Just before the First World War, 
travel was remarkably cheap and every spring and summer, as soon 
as the Antwerp courts adjourned, the whole family would pack and 
be off to the most exciting places a small boy could imagine. 

One spring it was the Ardennes, and it was there that I learned 
to catch the small wall lizards with a long piece of cane and a noose 
of cotton. Another year we got to Italy and my collecting graduated 
to the great green lizards of the Ligurian coast. From then until 
almost the end of my schooldays I devoted myself with true Flemish 
stubbornness to my lizards. My mother, who encouraged all my 
hobbies, went to the Zoo and inquired at the reptile house for 
the proper diets for my different species and my sister was soon 
dragged in to help me feed them. 

I must have been about fourteen when my mania became such a 
nuisance that my father decided the time had come to put his foot 

We were staying that year at a fairly smart hotel on the Italian 
Lakes. The Lakes are a lizard hunter's paradise. At daybreak, I 
would already be out searching and in the evening I would get back 
to the hotel, tired out, with the day's catch. My father had a more 
than average respect for the conventions of life and must have 
realised that lizards were simply not the thing to bring back 
in great quantities to a smart hotel. So one morning just before 
breakfast he caught me and in the kindly, judicial way he 
adopted with his family, delivered his verdict: "Armand, no more 

Now 1 was a dutiful son, and in those days honestly wished to 



obey my father. But I also had this devotion to my lizards. What 
was I to do ? 

Not for nothing was I a judge's son, and not for nothing was I 
being educated by the Jesuits. I thought a while and then proceeded 
to interpret my father's words according to the strict letter of logic 
and casuistry. He had said I was to catch no more lizards. That 
much was clear. He had not said anything though about the lizards 
I possessed already, and as he had not mentioned them I would be 
perfectly within my rights to hold on to them. 

In my eyes, these lizards were wildly beautiful. There were 
several dozen of them, large, well-fed, brilliantly coloured and there 
were also a couple of slender olive-green grass snakes to keep them 
company. For safety's sake, I kept them all in a large empty pillow 
case beneath the bed, far from the prying eyes of parents or hotel 

I remember that after my father spoke to me, the rest of the 
morning dragged atrociously. If I could not collect lizards, what else 
was there for me to do ? So just before lunch I went up to my room 
to look at the animals for consolation. 

In the corridor which led to my bedroom, there was a patch of 
sunshine. In it two lizards were basking. Lizards are not normally 
found in hotel corridors, and at once I feared the worst. As I 
opened the door another lizard scuttled by me into the passage and 
when I reached under the bed for that squirming pillow case, it 
squirmed no longer. The seam at one end had come undone, the 
bedroom door did not reach to the floor, and every one of my 
lizards and the two snakes as well, had silently disappeared. 

The silence did not last long. From somewhere in the hotel I 
heard someone shouting. Then a door slammed. Bells started ring- 
ing, servants running, and within a few minutes the whole hotel was 
in pandemonium. 

It was while I was sitting there on the edge of my bed that my 
father came in. He was wearing his overcoat and his brown bowler 
hat and was looking grim. 

"Pack your bag," he said. "We're leaving." And leave we did 
that very morning without even staying long enough for lunch. A 
cab took us down to the station and there, very hot in our best 



clothes, our cases piled beside us and my father still in his brown 
bowler and overcoat, we waited most of the afternoon for a 
slow train to Milan where we spent the rest of the holiday. 

I was expecting trouble from my father, but curiously it never 
came. He never referred to lizards again during the rest of the 
holiday and never alluded to the embarrassing interview he must 
have had with the hotel manager. To this day I do not know if the 
plague of lizards which suddenly struck the hotel was ever traced to 


It was about this time that I got the habit of travelling on my own 
and learned the knack I have employed many times since of planning 
a trip so as to see the greatest number of places for the cheapest 
possible fare. In those days for twenty francs you could buy a season 
ticket allowing unlimited travel for a full five days and nights on 
the Belgian Railways. As soon as I discovered this, I bought myself 
a ticket, loaded up with five days' supply of sandwiches and set off 
on the most complicated schedule, stopping off at all the intermediate 
stations I could find. By the time the five days were up and the sand- 
wiches were finished I must have seen three-quarters of Belgium. 

I decided then that I was going to be a traveller when I grew up. 
I remember lying in bed in the light summer evenings with two 
large, highly coloured German maps of the world on the wall 
opposite, and minutely planning expedition after expedition. Ment- 
ally I would trace out the routes I was going to follow, the supplies 
I was going to take, the places I was going to sec. For some reason, 
there were two spots on the map that intrigued me and attracted 
me above all others the Galapagos Islands and Baja California, the 
part of California which extends beyond the United States into 
Mexican territory. Several times since I have planned to go to both 
places, and once, long before a road was built, I actually got as far as 
Ensenada. But I am certain now that that is as near as I will ever 
get to Baja California. I have always found that a journey once 
abandoned never takes place. 

The other accomplishment I picked up as a boy was a basic skill 
at photography. For some reason I never used to photograph my 
animals in those days. All my energies went on buildings. I col- 



lected whole albums of photographs ot the cathedrals and churches 
of Belgium and Northern France. By pure chance I happened to 
have been the only person to have photographed all the windows 
and the interior of St. Martin's Cathedral at Ypres. After the war 
when the ruined cathedral was being rebuilt, the architects used the 
pictures I took as a boy to guide them. 

War the First World War broke out when I was seventeen, 
and in a heroic mood I joined up on the very day the German 
armies invaded Belgium. At this time I was an overgrown youth of 
six foot four. I had been intensively schooled in the classics but 
about life I knew almost nothing. Now, for the first time, the out- 
side world broke into the tight little world of my boyhood to 
complete the deficiencies of my education. 

First came the collapse of my country before the German armies, 
and I who had begun the war an enthusiastic volunteer in the 
Belgian Army, ended it a few weeks later in an internment camp in 
neutral Holland. As no one had produced a uniform large enough 
to fit me, I was still wearing my civilian trousers when I was interned; 
these, together with a peasant's cast-off cap and jacket, gave me an 
adequate disguise. By my eighteenth birthday I had escaped from 
the camp and reached Britain. I rejoined the remnants of the Belgian 
Army in France, but my health had gone and after a prolonged spell 
in hospital I was accepted as a refugee student at Oxford. 

It was only later that 1 realised exactly how lucky 1 was in this, for 
the period I spent at Oxford was one of the turning points of my life. 
I stayed, as a refugee student, in the house of Mrs. Lewis. She was a 
person of considerable wit and intelligence, and her two daughters 
and her two sons were all accomplished literary and classical scholars. 
Through them I was thrown straight into the liberal, rationalist 
world of Oxford. Scientists like F. S. Haldane and D. L. Chapman 
used to come to tea. The Henry Sidgwicks and the Gilbert Murrays 
were frequent guests and I remember sitting through those polite 
Oxford teatimes, a gauche, gangling youth, clutching my teacup 
and trying to follow the conversation as these great men held forth 
on the sort of subjects I had never listened to before in my life. 
Before long I had completely succumbed to Oxford, and it was 



Oxford that turned me from a classical scholar into a scientist. 
D. L. Chapman, who was doing research work for the Ministry of 
Munitions Inventions Board, offered me a job as an unpaid lab. 
assistant and within a few months I was on the way to becoming 
quite a competent chemist. As has happened to so many people, I 
found myself rediscovering in science the faith that I had begun to 
lose in the Church. 

But the really important thing Oxford did for me was not just 
to turn me into a scientist but to cause me to examine and question 
every one of the accepted ideas with which I had grown up. For 
here in Oxford was a society run according to principles that my 
parents and my previous teachers would have condemned as heretical 
and probably subversive. Yet the result was a community more 
tolerant, more kindly, more learned and not noticeably less moral 
than the people I had lived with all my life in Antwerp. 

This was a lesson of great importance. I have been relearning it 
time after time throughout my Hfe, whether among the head-hunters 
of New Guinea, the pygmies of the Congo, or in the troubled land 
of Kenya where Michaela and I live to-day. No single group, I am 
convinced, ever has a right to claim a monopoly of goodness or 
wisdom or political sense, still less to try imposing its views on other 
theoretically less enlightened people in the name of religion or 
politics. Societies are usually best left to work these things out 
according to their own traditions. 

But while the impact of Oxford at this point in my adolescence 
was to turn me into the sceptic I have been ever since, it did not really 
disillusion me, as it might have done. Instead of being disappointed 
to find that all the cast-iron beliefs I had grown up with were at best 
half-truths or convenient prejudices, I felt remarkably freed. 
Instead of feeling lost, I suddenly wanted to know more about 
other societies, other peoples, and other religions. All this went 
to reinforce the restlessness that was already a dominant part of my 
make up. 

But before I could be on the move again, I had to master my new 
trade as a chemist. I was to study in Oxford for several years at the 
end of the war and take an honours degree there in chemistry, but 
while the war was still on I was anxious to do something more 



immediately useful. I jumped at the chance of joining the experi- 
mental Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough then still known as 
the Royal Aircraft Factory. 

I worked there as a chemist for nearly two years, experimenting 
on aircraft fuel, lubricating oils and acetate dope. This was the great 
period of Farnborough. Some of the most brilliant scientists in 
Britain were there men like Lindemann, Aston, C. T. R. Wilson 
and Sir George Thomson and for me the experience of working 
among them was decisive. These men were heroes. They were not 
just experimenting in laboratories, but were risking their lives daily, 
test flying the prototype aircraft of the First World War and as I 
watched them walking on to the airfield or performing their pre- 
carious aerobatics above the drab landscape of Aldcrshot, I made up 
my twenty-year-old mind that this was the sort of life I wanted too. 
From now on I tended to look down on purely academic scientists. 
The scientist I admired had to be a man of action as well. My first 
experience of flying was at Farnborough, and I still shudder to think 
of the planes we flew in and the liberties we took with them. 

Curiously, it was during this period at Farnborough that my 
interest in animals, which had lain dormant ever since I left Belgium, 
began to revive. It was hard to get anywhere to live close to the 
factory. Farnborough and Aldershot were full of soldiers and their 
families, so in the end I took a room for five shillings a week with 
an old woman who owned a cottage at Blackwater on the edge of 
Yateley Common. 

In those days, the Common was a wild, still virtually untouched 
stretch of country, and every day I used to walk the four miles 
through the pine woods to and from Farnborough. In this way I got 
to know the countryside in spring, in autumn and when it was deep 
under snow, and I still think that the English countryside is com- 
pletely unmatched in the variety and combinations of colour it 
offers through the seasons. 

It was on these daily walks that I started observing the wild life. 
There were times in the evenings when I would spot a badger in the 
woods and spend hours following him. I began studying the birds 
and discovered a family of foxes living barely two hundred yards 
from the cottage. 



That summer I spent much of my spare time getting to know 
their habits. It was then that I realised just how much I missed the 
close contact with animals that I had enjoyed before I came to 
England. But even lizards would have been impossible to keep in 
that tiny room at Yateley, and I had to wait for the end of the war 
and my return to Oxford before I could resume that close relation- 
ship with living animals that is almost an instinctive need of rny 

Not that Oxford itself gave me any chance of keeping animals as 
1 would really have liked. But the vacations, and especially 
the four-months' long vacation in the summer, were heaven-sent 
opportunities for travelling and studying animals. The allowance 
from my father was not great, and like most students I was usually 
in debt, but when the vacations came I always seemed to find enough 
money for third-class railway tickets and cheap hotels somewhere or 
other in Europe. 

My first long vacation I spent with my friend, Alister Hardy, at 
the Oceanographical Institute at Naples. He was later to become 
Professor of Zoology at Oxford and was already known as a brilliant 
young zoologist. But as I watched him working in the Institute, I 
realised just how different my interest in animals was from that of 
the professional scientist. He was working on a study of the diet of 
several Mediterranean fish at the time, and would spend hour after 
hour in his laboratory sorting over the partly digested stomach 
contents of a particular fish. He would have his raw material in 
large trays, and worked away, quite oblivious of the nauseating 
smell, his pipe between his teeth. He was so absorbed that on one 
occasion I actually saw his pipe fall in among one of his pails offish 
gut. Without seeming to notice what he was doing, he picked it up, 
put it back in his mouth and went on with his work. 

This attitude of his naturally impressed me, but was something 
I could not hope to follow even if I had wanted to. To me, an animal 
was interesting only so long as it was alive. While it lived it was a 
tiling of wonder. When it was dead it was immediately repellent. 

It was this above all that prevented me from ever becoming a 
zoologist myself. My interest in animals lay in watching them live, 
not in discovering what happened when you changed their hormone 



secretions. Nor could I ever convince myself that the dividing up of 
animals into minor sub-species was of outstanding interest or 

In those days I felt that chemistry, physics and mathematics 
were the subjects that really mattered because they were concerned 
with ultimate truth. Animals, on the other hand, were something to 
be enjoyed. If I am honest I suppose my attitude to them was senti- 
mental rather than scientific, and compared with a dedicated scientist 
like Hardy, I was a mere enthusiast and dilettante, following the 
tilings that interested me rather than spending hours in the laboratory 
methodically pursuing truth. During this time at Naples, I spent 
most of my days at the aquarium, watching the life of the squids and 
octopuses, or else I would be out in the Bay with the fishermen in 
their feluccas. 

Another of my expeditions led me to the great caves of Postumia 
on the Yugoslav side of Trieste. This time I was in search of a rare 
type of salamander that lived in the waters of the deep underground 
lakes. In the continual darkness of the caves it was blind and 
colourless and my friend, Julian Huxley, wanted several specimens 
for an experiment. According to his theory, this salamander was 
similar to the Mexican axolotl, a type of salamander that reaches 
sexual maturity without developing a land form. With the axolotl, 
it had proved possible to induce the aquatic form to complete its 
development into a land animal by feeding it on thyroid extract 
and Julian wished to see if the same was possible with the sala- 
manders of Postumia. 

Once again, it was not the idea of the experiment that interested 
me, so much as the animals themselves and I spent many days wading 
through the dripping caves of Postumia with a net and an acetylene 
lamp, searching for salamanders. 

But the salamanders must have known I was coming, and 
although I got very wet and explored the network of caves from 
one end to the other, I came back from Postumia empty-handed. 

It was the following year that I took my degree at Oxford. I 
was now a qualified chemist, but there was still a great deal I 
intended to do and see before I settled down, First I felt I had to 
make sure that I really had rejected religion as decisively as I imag- 


ined. So a few days after I had taken my finals, I packed my suitcase, 
put a copy of Plato in my raincoat pocket, and with an old trilby 
hat on my head, set off for Italy. 

My objective was an ancient monastery on the Ligurian coast, very 
near to the now fashionable village of Portofino; the Certosa di 
Cervara. I had seen it several times before when I had passed through 
this part of Italy on holiday. It was in a magnificent position on the 
brow of a hill and belonged to the Carthusians, one of the strictest 
orders in the Church, and a few days after leaving Oxford, I was 
talking to the Father Superior and asking him to accept me as a 
novice monk. 

He was an old Frenchman of great saintliness and simplicity 
and was understandably baffled by my request. For I explained quite 
frankly that I was an agnostic, but that instead of dismissing religion, 
I actually wanted to expose myself to it. If God did make His 
presence known to me I would not hesitate to accept Him. 

At first he was against having a non-believer within his walls, 
but I argued that this was possibly a chance for him to save a soul, 
and finally he agreed to accept me on condition that I came to his 
cell for two hours every day to discuss religion. 

I knew that the monastery had a reputation for strictness, but it 
was not until I was actually a novice monk in my cell that I realised 
quite how harsh the regime was. At midnight we would be 
awakened and for the next three hours, cold and bleary-eyed, we 
would chant the office in the damp chapel of the monastery. We 
would get to bed again at three and be called for prayers at six. 
There was one meal a day. 

Not that any of this particularly worried me at the time. I was 
young and fairly strong and my days passed not unpleasantly. Part 
of the time I read Plato. Part of the time I discussed God with the 
Father Superior. And part of the time I spent in Rapallo or Santa 
Margherita, for I was given the job of going to market to buy food 
for the monastery. 

In this role, I was not a complete success and the Father Superior 
felt obliged to relieve me of my marketing duties after I bought a 
dolphin from some of the local fishermen. It looked all right, but 


dolphin often appears better than It tastes and although I thought 
I had a bargain, the fish finally became an object of considerable 
dissension among my brother monks. 

Every day my discussions with the Father Superior would 
continue, but after a while I realised we were getting nowhere. The 
subject might be personal devils or the virgin birth. We would 
argue until we had reached a state of complete deadlock, and the old 
man, obviously very upset, would say, "I can't argue. I just know I'm 
right but I can't argue any more. We must go to the Superior of the 
Capucini. He's a better theologian than L He'll put things straight." 

The Capucini had a monastery two or three miles away, and the 
Father Superior and I would get into his broken-down old carriage. 
The gardener would be summoned to harness the horse, and while 
he was muttering beneath his breath about the way the monks 
wasted his time when the vegetables needed so much attention, we 
would be driven over to the Superior of the Capucini. 

Here, after a glass of liqueur, the argument would continue. I 
would explain my difficulties. My Father Superior would put his 
case. And then the Father Superior of the Capucini would deliver 
his verdict as a good theologian should. 

Unfortunately, I soon realised that through these visits, I was 
beginning to get my monastery a bad name. The old Father 
Superior was being criticised for harbouring a heretic, and so 
finally one bright November morning, I put my Plato back into my 
raincoat pocket, thanked the Father Superior for his kindness and 
caught the morning train to Naples. 


2 A Hot Tortoise 

IF my period as a novice monk had any effect on me it was to 
make me more certain than ever that my life was to be dedicated 
to science, and I left the monastery feeling that the moment had 
probably come for me to take a job and settle at last. So I spent only 
a few weeks in Naples, and most of the time I seemed to be catching 
up on food and sleep. 

Naturally I revisited the Oceanographical Institute, but much 
as I loved the fish and the other rare sea creatures in the aquarium, I 
realised again that by temperament I was no theoretical zoologist. 
By late autumn I was near the end of my allowance. There was just 
enough money to pay my hotel and buy a third-class ticket to 
Antwerp and I was home by Christmas. 

My appearance must have confirmed my parents' worst fears 
about me. I was thin, bedraggled and looked like a tramp who had 
been on hard times. So it was a great relief to everyone when, early 
in the New Year, I announced that I had a job as a chemist with an 
engineering firm in Brussels, who specialised in the design and 
building of metallurgical coke ovens. 

Coke ovens may not iound particularly romantic, but 1 enjoyed 
this period of my life immensely. My company was building a 
huge coke plant in the desolate colliery country near the French- 
Belgian border and I found I was perfectly happy working in that 
atmosphere of dust and sulphur, for there was considerable scope 
for a research chemist. People had been making coke for years 
without really studying how it happened and there seemed to me 
endless ways of increasing the chemical efficiency of the process. 
It was to study this that I finally left the firm I was with and obtained 



a job as research assistant to a Professor Charpy at the Ecole des 
Mines in Paris. Not that I saw a great deal of the good professor, for 
I got into the habit of working at night. The professor, not un- 
naturally, continued to work by day, and most of our contact was 
by the notes we left each other in the laboratory. 

While I was working in Paris I made one of the most unexpected 
friendships of my life. This was with Dr. Marie Stopes. For as wel] 
as being an expert on sex, love and marriage, Marie Stopes was also 
an acknowledged international authority on coal, and it was in this 
secondary role that I knew her. I met her at a Congress of Industrial 
Heating in Paris, a tall commanding figure in a tweed suit, and I 
helped her with an impromptu translation of her paper on the micro- 
structure of coal. I think that few of the scientists at the Congress 
can have known who she was, but I found her one of the most 
animated and intelligent conversationalists I have ever met. Rather 
to my regret, the only subjects I can never remember discussing 
with her are sex, love and marriage. 

Apart from meeting Marie Stopes, the most memorable result 
of my research on coal was to get me to the United States. For after 
two years in Paris, I was feeling the urge to be on the move again 
and when the chance presented itself of a research fellowship in 
America under the auspices of the Belgian Relief Commission, I 
jumped at it. 

I must admit that in the mood I was in by now, I was more 
interested in travelling than studying. Suddenly I wanted to get as 
far from Europe as I could. Consulting my atlas I found that the 
California Institute of Technology at Pasadena in California was 
located just about as far from the eastern seaboard of the United 
States as it was possible to go. So I set to work preparing an elabor- 
ate research project that could be carried out only at Pasadena. It 
was accepted without a murmur and early one September morning, 
accompanied by twenty-two other sober and industrious young 
Belgians, I set sail for New York. 

I managed to take seven weeks over my journey from New 
York to Pasadena. Repeating the trick I had learned with my five- 
day season tickets on the Belgian railways, I succeeded in seeing an 
astonishing amount of the United States, including the Grand 



Canyon on the way, and when I finally called on Dr. Robert 
Millikan, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who was head of 
Caltech at the time, I was a good month late. He told me that 
everyone had given me up for lost. 

Even at Caltech I could not work. It was not laziness so much as 
sheer excitement at being in America. I had been cramped in Europe 
so long that the breadth and scope of this new continent went to my 
head. It seemed criminal not to cram as much travel and experience 
as possible into my time there. I saw everything avidly, from Holly- 
wood to the Rockies, and then, five months after I arrived, remorse 
caught up with me. 

I told myself that this was not what I had been given my fellow- 
ship for and I wrote to the C.R.B. Foundation offering my resigna- 
tion. To my relief their reply suggested that since I seemed bent on 
travelling, the Foundation would be willing to give me a proper 
travelling fellowship. They knew I was interested in the co-opera- 
tion between American industry and the research departments of 
the universities and told me to visit any institutes and universities I 
liked and then write a report. 

Had this plan worked I would probably have ended my days 
teaching physics or chemistry in some Belgian university. Lucidly 
for me it did not. 1 visited my universities, travelling for this 
purpose to almost every State in the Union ; I wrote niy report ; 
I returned with it to Belgium and no one was remotely interested. 
I was told that the projects I put forward were visionary and un- 
workable although everyone agreed that they worked perfectly 
well on the other side of the Atlantic and after several weeks of 
continual discouragement, 1 decided that I needed the elbow room 
that I felt I could find only in America. 

Tliis time when I came back to America, I returned intending to 
stay. I took a job as a research chemist in a laboratory at Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, close to Harvard University, and the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology, and for several years 1 felt that 1 really had 
found the life I wanted. For at last I seemed to have the chance ol 
reconciling my work as a scientist with my interest in animals, and 
suddenly the mania for collecting animals I had as a boy made its 
appearance again. It began unexpectedly enough one afternoon 



when I was driving through Connecticut and had to stop the car 
to avoid crushing some young turtles that were swarming across the 
road from a nearby pond. When I got out, I found that they were 
the common American punctata turtles and were only a few inches 
long, but there were hundreds of them around the pond and I 
could not resist taking half a dozen home with me in the back of the 

This was only a start. Once I actually had animals like these in 
my house all my collector's instincts revived. I began to be as inter- 
ested in turtles as \ had once been in my lizards, and found it fairly 
easy to build up a sizeable collection of them. For New England is 
fine turtle country and I was soon spending my week-ends driving 
off, net and waders in the back of the car, to search for some sub- 
species that I still needed. There were Muhlenberg's and Blanding's 
turtles and the delicate wood tortoises. And \ was particularly 
interested by the remarkable box tortoises and turtles. These 
boasted hinged flaps front and rear and so were able to retire into 
invulnerable isolation when startled, by withdrawing into their 
shells and drawing up their flaps. 

Turtles and tortoises make agreeable pets and there are so many 
species and sub-species that they are a fascinating study for a serious 
naturalist. But I doubt if my collection would have grown at the 
rate it did had it not been for Dr. Harry Wegcforth. Dr. Wegeforth 
was a San Diego physician who founded the San Diego Zoo. He 
was also to become my deadly rival for he was the outstanding 
turtle lover in the United States. I soon got to know him and he was 
such an eager and devoted collector that I felt impelled to compete. 

Both of us used to have private arrangements with the fish 
merchants in Fulton Street in New York to send us any unusual 
specimens that came their way and there was always a great battle to 
see which of us came off best. I would rage when I found something 
had been sent to him, and he would rage when he heard of some- 
thing being sent to me. 

Under these conditions of acute competition, my collection was 
soon completely out of hand and life was becoming impossible. 
Every bath, every tub, every wash-basin in the house had its resident 
turtle. Had I been strictly rational about my turtles, I would have 



thinned my collection out, but no real collector is entirely rational. 
My love was an all or nothing affair, and rather than reject some and 
keep others, I finally decided they would all have to go. But there 
was one tortoise I would not part with under any circumstances, 
His name was Jake. He was a very large, very handsome, very rare 
and very valuable tortoise from the Galapagos Islands, and I was 
devoted to him. But there was another reason why I felt I could not 
get rid of him: in police court terms, Jake was hot. 

I had acquired him in an unusually roundabout way from a 
junior member of an expedition organised by the New York 
Aquarium in the 1920$ to collect a number of these tortoises already 
then, as now, threatened with total extinction from the Galapagos 
Islands. This man had had some disagreement with the expedition 
and as a sort of revenge had walked off the ship at New York 
carrying Jake. For a while he kept him, but he had not reckoned 
with the serious difficulties involved in keeping a giant Galapagos 
tortoise in a New York apartment, and before long he wanted to 
get rid of him. He could not very well return him to the New York 
Aquarium, so I was offered him in a sort of black market deal, and 
was so excited at the chance of owning a thirty-pound Galapagos 
turtle of my own that I accepted him at once, promising absolute 
secrecy, and asking the minimum number of questions. 

For several years, our relationship was ideal and the subject of 
Jake's semi-criminal status never arose. He stayed with me long 
after the rest of my tortoises and turtles had been dispersed and his 
weight grew steadily from the thirty-pound adolescent he was when 
I first had him, towards the three-hundred pounds which would be 
his normal adult weight. He was an expensive pet to keep, and I 
fed him on great quantities of vegetables, although his greatest 
partiality was for fruit, melons, paw-paw and apples, particularly 

It was when Jake was confronted with an apple that his person- 
ality would appear to best advantage. The one thing nobody, not 
even the most ardent tortoise admirer, can claim for the tortoise, is 
a high level of intelligence. But Jake had other qualities to com- 
pensate, the most outstanding of which was pertinacity. He would 
never give in, and least of all with an apple. If I gave him a particul- 


atly large apple, just too big for the spread of his jaws, he would 
think nothing of spending five or six hours chasing it around the 
room until he could wedge it in a comer where he could really bite 
into it. He would exhibit much the same perseverance when he got 
stuck under a piece of low furniture as he often did. He would not 
consider giving up and backing out. He would just go on, trying to 
push forward until the piece of furniture moved or he clawed him- 
self a hole in the carpet or even in the wooden floor. Sometimes he 
would get under the chair I was sitting on, and solemnly trundle me 
around the room until I decided I had had enough. 

Trouble began with Jake after I had moved from Massachusetts 
to an apartment in New Jersey. Normally he would lie quite torpid 
on the hot air outlet that warmed the room. Suddenly he would 
wake up, to embark with vast enthusiasm on some expedition 
around the room ; then realising the drop in temperature, he would 
go thankfully back to his hot air outlet. This was routine behaviour. 
But one day when he awoke I realised he was sick. His nose was 
running, his eyes were closed, and he hardly had the energy to get 
around the room. Jake had pneumonia. 

It was now that his illegality as a tortoise suddenly mattered; 
he was so rare that I could not admit his existence to any of the 
experts who might have been able to help him without breaking 
my oath of secrecy. 

I did my best for Jake. 1 nursed him through the afternoon and the 
evening, but his condition got steadily worse. By two in the morn- 
ing, I knew that unless I go t help straight away, Jake would not survive. 

So I took the risk I had been avoiding all day. I rang Dr. 
Ditmars, the Head of the Reptile Department of the New York 
Zoological Society and asked his help. If he had wanted to be diffi- 
cult he could have been very easily. For all the Galapagos tortoises 
in America were theoretically in zoos and any investigation would 
inevitably have involved me in extreme embarrassment. So when 
he came to the telephone and sleepily asked what I wanted at such an 
unearthly time of the night, I said, "Dr. Ditmars, I prefer not to dis- 
close my name for reasons you will understand, but I have a 
Galapagos tortoise critically ill with pneumonia. Can you tell me 
how to save his life ? " 



Well, he was magnificent He spent the next twenty minutes 
telling me in great detail how I should keep my tortoise warm, how 
to give him an inhalant to keep his nasal passages clear and how to 
try camphorated oil on his throat. When he had finished, he made 
no attempt to find out who I was or what I was doing with a 
Galapagos tortoise. He just said, "Good night. Good luck to you,'* 
and hung up. 

For nearly a week I followed his instructions and slowly for 
tortoises take their time over everything Jake recovered and was 
soon slumbering happily on the hot air duct and digging holes in 
my carpet again. 

It was as well that he did recover, for Jake's most important role in 
my life was still to come. To understand how this came about it is 
necessary to add a little more to the story of my life as a research 

As early as 1926 I had become interested in radio. To start 
with, I was only the merest amateur, but my interests have always 
had a habit of growing out of hand, and before long most of my 
energies were going into this new hobby. During the day I was still 
earning my living as a chemist, but in my spare time I was building 
experimental circuits and soaking up as much knowledge about 
radio as I could from magazines, pamphlets and even illustrated 

In these early days the whole field of radio was so wide open that 
an amateur like me, granted some luck and ingenuity, could still hope 
to stumble on a discovery of some value between breakfast-time 
and dinner. In my case things did not happen quite so swiftly as this 
and it took me eighteen months to perfect an idea I had. But by 
plodding away, rather as Jake did when he was pursuing an apple, 
I finally produced a method of automatically controlling the volume 
on a radio set that has been universally used on radios ever since. 

Stupidly, I did not realise the full commercial value of my 
invention. I applied for patents of course, and then turned down a 
fifty-thousand dollar offer for my patent application. Instead I 
preferred to accept six thousand dollars for an option on the in- 
vention from a firm in New Jersey who dazzled me with promises 



of unlimited facilities in their research laboratories to develop my 
invention to production level. 

To start with, things went well, but before long I found that I 
was not getting the facilities I wanted and was being led away from 
my own work to problems of mere routine production. The hours 
I was having to work grew steadily longer, and development of my 
invention was virtually at a standstill. It was a frustrating and a 
maddening situation to be in, but as I had surrendered the option 
on my invention there was little I could do about it. 

One decisive Wednesday morning I told myself I had had enough, 
collected my six thousand dollars, and shook the dust of the research 
laboratory off my feet for ever. 

This was my great escape, and the start of the sort of life I have 
been living ever since. But at the time it did not seem like that at all. 
At first, all I planned for myself was a good long holiday, as far away 
from cities and research laboratories as I could get. Of course I had 
been thinking about getting away for several months before I 
finally made the break and had been trying to discover the ideal 
place to go to. 

I knew quite well what I wanted. It had to be somewhere, 
preferably an island as far from America as possible, that was com- 
pletely untouched by the civilisation of the West. I wanted the 
chance of a good long sea voyage on the way, and I had decided that 
I was going to stay there as long as my money lasted. 

My requirements may sound simple enough, but there seemed 
to be something wrong with almost everywhere I could think of. 
After a lot of inquiries, I decided that the one place in the world which 
would give me the peace I wanted was the island of Bali. 

In those days, Bali had not been heard of by one person in a 
thousand. It was barely sixty miles long. It lay in the Pacific close to 
the western tip of Java and if everything I heard of it was true, it 
was an earthly paradise. The scenery was spectacular, the climate 
perfect, and the people were said to be a carefree, spontaneous race 
with a unique art of their own. Several writers commented on their 
natural skill as actors, and when I read of their wealth of legends and 
folk stories, I decided that here was all the material a film maker 
could ever need, 



This decision of mine to make a film began as an attempt to 
justify to myself the highly irresponsible way in which I proposed to 
get rid of the first and last six thousand dollars I possessed in the world. 
I had done a lot of still photography, but was virtually ignorant 
of movie cameras. This trip, I felt, would give me a good chance 
to learn. 

So I bought myself a pair of second-hand wooden de Brie 
cameras from a shop off Broadway. They cost me eight hundred 
dollars and included a pair of tripods and set of lenses. It was only 
later that I realised quite what antiques they were, even for those 

The other equipment I needed was more cumbersome. At that 
time, film makers had to process their own film as they went along, 
so I needed things like drying racks and wooden developing tanks 
that were big as well as expensive. I bought only one each of these 
and decided that I would save money by getting them copied by 
local carpenters when I reached Bali. 

Within a few weeks I was ready to go. I had practised filming 
some of my friends at home just to get the feel of my cameras and 
the results seemed surprisingly good. I had also remembered to have 
two brief lessons from a Broadway make-up artist I knew and 
bought a large box of assorted stage make-up for the stars of my 
film. There was only one problem that remained Jake the tortoise. 
As I have explained, I could not give him away if I had wanted to, 
and I knew no one who would accept the burden of looking after 
an illicit eighty-pound Galapagos tortoise for me for seven or eight 
months. Clearly if I was going to Bali, Jake would have to come too. 

Just one month after I walked out of the laboratory, I was in 
Boston harbour standing on the deck of the Silver Prince, a round- 
the-world freighter due to call at Bali in two months' time, and 
watching Jake being carefully swung aboard by one of the ship's 


3 Escape to Bali 

AS a travelling companion, Jake presented few problems. For 
XJL a few days after leaving New York he stayed retired from the 
world in the warmth and peace of my cabin, but as we steamed into 
warmer latitudes his courage grew. So did his appetite. I never 
seemed to stop feeding him and after several false alarms when I 
thought I had lost him only to find him in the galley searching for 
food, I decided the only place for him was on deck. He enjoyed that. 
The crew made a fuss of him and when there was no one else to 
show off to and no more apples to chase, Jake would lie, day after 
day, watching the long wake of the ship from the shade of the awn- 
ing at the stern. 

All the places we stopped at he took in his stride. At Panama 
I took him ashore for a little exercise while the ship was being re- 
fuelled, but he did not appreciate that and refused to budge a step 
farther until I turned and started back for the ship. At Hawaii 
nothing would persuade him to land, and at Yokohama when I 
went ashore, I just left him in his favourite place on deck, well 
stocked with fruit. He was still there when I came back several 
hours later. 

The real crisis of Jake's life came a few nights later when we 
were steaming south through the China Sea and hit a typhoon. 
These were the days before radar, and nobody knew about the storm 
until we were in the middle of it. I was flung violently out of my 
bunk at about three in the morning and thought at once that the 
ship was going down. Then, seconds later, the first officer burst into 
my cabin. 

"What are you going to do about Jake?" he shouted. "He's 



up on deck and he'll be battered to pieces if we don't get him pretty 

The ship was bucking alarmingly and I thought the safety of the 
ship should be the first officer's more urgent concern than the safety 
of my tortoise. But he was one of Jake's most devoted admirers 
and there was no arguing with him. I followed him up to the after- 
deck, with the gale screaming in our ears and the ship plunging so 
deeply after each enormous wave that I thought it could never 
come up again. If it had not been for the first officer Jake would 
certainly have been washed overboard or battered against the side 
of the ship.. As it was, we were only just in time. 

In the middle of a typhoon when you are under water most 
of thfi time, an eighty-pound Galapagos tortoise is not the 
easiest animal to control. Somehow we managed to lasso him, then 
lash him down against the deck, and hope that the ropes would 
hold for the night. Next morning when the typhoon had 
passed, the first officer and I went together to release him. He was 
exactly where we had left him, completely unperturbed by his 
adventures and more anxious than ever for his breakfast. 

When we reached Bali, I found that none of the extravagant 
praise I had heard before I left had quite prepared me for the beauty 
and strangeness of the island. Since then it has been developed and 
commercialised out of all recognition, but in those days it was still 
practically untouched. I lived in one of the villages on the lower 
slopes of the spectacular Mount Batoer and was enchanted with the 
life from the moment I arrived. In the mornings I would watch the 
ducks being herded through the village in great flocks like sheep by 
a man with a bamboo pole. There were primitive chickens there 
that had retained their ability to fly, and I would have to keep my 
eyes open for the great, apparently placid water buffaloes being 
pushed around by tiny Balinese boys. These would become un- 
accountably wild if they so much as smelled a European. 

I even found lizards to remind me of all my collecting as a boy, 
although the Balinese lizards were far bigger and grander than any 
I had ever had. 

But the greatest impression that Bali made on me was through 
its people. From my first contacts with them, I could sec that all my 



preconceptions about them were entirely wrong. The Balinese 
were not a primitive people in any sense. They were highly civilised, 
but their culture and their morality were utterly different from 
anything I had ever known before. Essentially, they were a race of 
artists. In my own small village there were painters, sculptors, 
dancers, actors and musicians, but it was characteristic of them that 
when I inquired, 1 was told that their vocabulary contained no 
word for "artist." Since they were all artists and treated their art as 
something inevitable and instinctive, they had no need for the word, 

Bali was my first real contact with a tropical country and the 
climate and the way of life suited me so well that I was soon having 
to remind myself that I had come to make a film as well as to take a 
holiday. So I began to unload my equipment from the packing 
cases in which it had arrived. Luckily there were good carpenters 
in the village and 1 soon had them building me a dark room on to 
the side of the hut where I lived. I also needed extra drying racks 
and developing tanks and again found no difficulty in discovering 
local carpenters who could build me perfect copies, in teak, of the 
equipment I possessed already. 

At first, I intended simply to film scenes from the life of the 
Balinese people, but as I lived among them I began to learn some- 
thing of the wealth of their legends and folk tales. Their whole 
mythology was so intricate and impressive that I decided to draw 
on it for my film and one of their own stories was easily adapted 
to form the plot of what finally became the film "Goona Goona." 
When I made this decision it was with all the rashness of the 
complete novice, but I was saved by the remarkable acting skill 
of the Balinese who provided me with my stars, my extras and my 
full supporting cast. 

As it happened, Jake, the tortoise, was to play an important part 
in helping me find the actors and especially the actresses I needed. 
For, of course, I had him with me in the village and to stop Mm 
getting lost I had a small enclosure built just outside my hut. The 
day after I put Jake inside, I saw a procession of local girls arriving 
with bowls of bananas and breadfruit on their heads. 

For a moment I thought that I was being honoured but the girls 
walked on past my door and halted solemnly by fake's enclosure. 



Jake stared at them suspiciously through his black beady eyes. Then 
one of the girls stepped forward, knelt reverently in front of him, 
and offered him her bowl of fruit. The next girl followed, and the 
next, until Jake was faced with a small mountain of fruit. Then the 
girls knelt before him once more and ceremoniously departed. 

All this seemed to be something that Jake instinctively under- 
stood and he ate as I had never seen a tortoise eat before. The same 
thing happened in the evening, and again the following morning. 
From then on, twice a day, Jake was devotedly fed by processions 
of respectful maidens, just as if he were some local deity. I found out 
that this was exactly what the girls thought he was. His fame spread 
and the whole village was soon visiting him. Prayers would be said 
before him, mats were woven for him, and every day the pile of 
fruit and vegetables offered by the faithful seemed to increase until 
even Jake was finding it difficult to keep pace with it. He began 
getting cracks between his scales from over-eating and I had to try 
rationing him to stop him bursting out of his shell from sheer 

What puzzled me for some time about this cult of Jake was that 
there were no tortoises on the island and as far as I could find out 
there never had been. Later I learned the answer. The Balinese 
are not Malays or a Polynesian race like most South Sea Islanders. 
Instead they came originally from India and brought with them the 
old animistic rites of early Indian religion. The animals they wor- 
shipped included the tortoise, although in Bali it soon became an 
entirely mythical creature that was represented in Balinese carvings 
as a sort of large egg with three holes at each end to represent the 
legs, the head and the tail. 

This explained the veneration Jake received the whole time I 
was on Bali. It was as if I had arrived in Europe with a centaur or a 
unicorn and I found that I was beginning to share some of Jake's 
prestige. By Balinese standards I suppose I ranked as his prophet 
or high priest, and this status of mine assured me of all the help I 
needed for my film. 

It was not until I started preparing my camera for filming 
that I realised quite what an antique I had bought. The legs of the 
wooden tripod swelled in the tropics and I spent hours trying to 



sandpaper them down to make them work properly. To focus 
the camera there was an elaborate process of taking the back 
off and then punching a small hole in the first frame of the film 
through which you peered through the lens at the object you were 
filming. Then you would draw lines on the ground in front to 
show the actors the areas in which they could move and still 
remain roughly in focus. I had, of course, no light meters in those 
days, and had to judge the aperture completely by guesswork. But 
despite all these apparent handicaps, this old de Brie produced results 
which to-day I would never imagine possible with such primitive 
equipment, let alone when operated by a novice like I was. 

As I worked with the local Balinese who had volunteered as 
actors in my film, I began to understand something of the unusual 
psychology of the Balinese people and how different their entire 
make-up was from anything I had been used to in Western civilisa- 

The plot of the film was a traditional Balinese love story, about 
a Balinese prince and the beautiful wife of a poor coolie. The climax 
came when the coolie returned to find evidence of his wife's un- 
faithfulness in the form of the prince's richly jewelled kriss lying 
by their bed. Immediately, the coolie became incensed with jealousy, 
pursued the prince to the seashore and, after a terrific fight, stabbed 
him to death with his own kriss. Then, horror-stricken at having 
killed a royal prince, the coolie used the kriss to stab himself. 

All this made for a lot of action and colour and the Balinese 
excelled themselves in the fights and the crowd scenes. But although 
the young Balinese who was playing the part of the coolie was a 
most accomplished natural actor, I found it impossible to make him 
register anger or jealousy against the prince. He would grimace in a 
half-hearted fashion, but although I rehearsed him several times he 
was quite unconvincing. I soon realised that this was because the 
whole idea of jealousy in this situation was completely foreign to 
him and to the Balinese in general. 

"But just think," I said to him, "you have a young wife whom you 
are very much in love with. You go away on a journey. You come 
back and you find out that she has deceived you with another man. 
What would you do ?" 



He stared blankly at me and shrugged his shoulders. 

"But you'd have to do something," I said, getting impatient. 
"You couldn't just accept a thing like that." 

By now the young man was clearly trying very hard to be help- 
ful and thought for a minute or so before replying. 

"I know what I would do/* he said. " I'd go out and get myself 
another wife/' 

I soon found that this summed up the attitude of the Balinese, 
not just to morality, but to life in general They were warm, they 
were kindly, they were immensely tolerant, but most of the passions 
and extremes of emotion and ambition which plague Western man 
were totally incomprehensible to them. 

On the whole I admired this. It certainly made life far easier and 
probably more enjoyable. But at the same time I always felt that 
there was something missing in them. Their characters lacked depth 
and mystery and the idea of ever forming a lifelong friendship with 
a Balinese was impossible. 

On the other hand, superficially at any rate, Bali itself was the 
most beautiful place on earth. Living was easy. The people were as 
beautiful as the country and there seemed to be nothing to upset a 
way of life that had proceeded undisturbed for centuries. 

But it soon dawned on me that none of this richness of culture 
was going to last. Almost everything on the island I so admired 
the carving, the music, the decoration was already doomed. The 
signs were everywhere. Bali had survived untouched for as long as 
it had mainly because it possessed little to attract the traders who were 
drawn to Sumatra and Java and the other islands of the Dutch East 
Indies. Now, at last, the traders had arrived and were firmly installed. 
Already the Balinese were eagerly buying their first bicycles and 
cars. Corrugated iron had begun to scar the villages. Machine- 
woven cotton goods from abroad had already made obsolete the old 
hand looms, and cheap Swiss dyes were being imported by the in- 
dustrious Dutch to take the place of the rich batik dyes that had been 
made in Bali for centuries. The wealth of the island was beginning 
to drain abroad as the Balinese traded the gold that had remained 
in their families for years to pay for their imports. The serene 
isolation of Bali was about to vanish for good. 


This was my first real experience of what progress means when 
thrust on a people like the Balinese. As a scientist I was theoretic- 
ally on the side of progress and I had always been impatient of the 
sort of sentimentalists who always crop up to defend whatever is 
picturesque or inefficient or out-of-date. But gradually I realised 
that what was happening in Bali was something different. Progress 
was not replacing here it was simply destroying. Wherever it 
penetrated, the old way of life seemed to crumble, and however 
much I tried to convince myself of the benefits that progress would 
bring the Balinese, I knew in my heart that their contentment 
would go. Their culture would degenerate into a caricature of their 
former civilisation to amuse the tourists. This whole rich, unique 
way of life around me would be turned into one more bad imitation 
of America, 

It was this sense of loss that gave me my first real doubts about 
my role as a scientist. It also turned my mind to the problem of 
preserving and recording societies that were as valuable and as 
imperilled as the Balinese. From what I knew of animals, I already 
understood how final is the loss of a species once it becomes extinct. 
The world is that much poorer, the variety of nature is that much less 
and no amount of sorrow or ingenuity can ever restore it. With a 
people the loss suddenly seemed even greater and more absolute, 
and it appalled me to think that within a few years something as 
vital and as beautiful as the culture of Bali could vanish from the 
earth as decisively as the dodo or the great auk. 

I had rny cine camera, and after a fashion the film I made be- 
came an irreplaceable record of the world of Bali that has now gone 
for ever. But I had no sound recording equipment. My cameras 
were inadequate for the sort of task I had in mind, and I decided 
then that if 1 had the chance again to visit other unusual human 
groups, I was going to be properly equipped to place them on 
record for ever. 

But while I was in Bali it was impossible to remain too worried 
by the future for long. All the time I was shooting "Goona 
Goona" I was learning my future trade as a film-maker, and when 
I was not occupied with this, there was the animal life of the island 
for me to discover. 



Almost before I knew where I was I had three grey Java monkeys 
living in the hut as pets. One of them called Sakiet became my 
inseparable companion. Sakiet is the Balinese for "ill," "depressed/' 
and this young monkey had a look of perpetual unhappiness. 
But he was the most amiable of all the monkeys I ever had. 
Normally, a monkey is not particularly trustworthy, and the 
moment always comes, sooner or later, when he loses his temper 
and buries his teeth in your arm in an access of sudden rage. 
But this never happened with Sakiet. Something of the easy- 
going tolerance of Bali itself seemed to have rubbed off on to him, 
and even when I had taken him back with me to the States, he still 
remained his sad, kindly self. 

Monkeys were by no means the only animals Bali had to 
offer. West Bali, in contrast to the mountain country where I was 
making my film, had a terrain of rich parkland and in those days 
there were still tigers to be found there. I planned to go there several 
times and finally got my chance when an American yacht arrived at 
Bali manned by a crew of students from Yale and Harvard. 

They were anxious to see the whole of the island, especially 
when I mentioned the tigers to them, so I joined the boat for a few 
days and set sail for the virtually uninhabited western coast of Bali. 

When we landed we spent a long time looking for tigers but 
without success. Wherever the tigers of Bali were remained a secret 
that the combined resources of Yale and Harvard could not uncover. 
But when we had given up our search I discovered something far 
more exciting. As I walked along the beach on the way back to the 
yacht, I noticed the tracks of a startlingly large animal coming out of 
the sea and disappearing into the bushes at the top of the beach. These 
tracks were enormous, with a five-foot spread between them and 
when I followed them I saw that they led into a sort of tunnel 
through the bushes. I hesitated a while and listened carefully in case 
the animal was still around but there was no sound. So I crawled in 
myself and followed for thirty or forty yards until it opened out to a 
pool of fresh water standing amid the trees. 

The tracks I had followed were those of a giant sea crocodile; 
I had heard the local fishermen speak of them with considerable 
awe and say that they often came up from the sea and spent some 



time ashore in fresh-water pools before returning again to the sea 
where they lived. As the tracks pointed only one way, I knew that 
my crocodile must still be there. But although I peered into the 
water I could see no sign of him and decided that the only way to 
set eyes on him would be to wait until he returned seawards of his 
own accord. 

I knew I was probably in for a long wait. So I told the boys on 
the yacht and together we kept up a vigil for the rest of the afternoon 
and the whole of the night. We had brought blankets with us and 
made ourselves comfortable. Finally, all of us must have nodded 

I woke just before dawn. The crocodile had come and gone 
while we slept. In a neat circle round the place where we had been 
lying went the huge footprints I had seen the previous day. When 
I followed them. I saw that they led back to the sea. In the early 
morning the crocodile had come out of the pool, seen us, walked 
round to investigate and then gone on his way. I reminded myself 
of the passage in Boulanger's authoritative book on reptiles, in 
which he states that the marine crocodile is the only one of the 
crocodile family that will attack a man on land without provocation. 

I woke the students and we raced down to the edge of the surf. 
It was light by now and we could actually see the crocodile about a 
hundred yards off-shore, floating like the trunk of a very large tree. 
He was lying there peacefully, and as far as I could judge was be- 
tween twenty-five and thirty feet long. We climbed aboard a native 
canoe and paddled out cautiously towards him, but when we got 
close one of the students disturbed him by trying to stand up to take 
a photograph. With a flip of his great tail he submerged, swimming 
right beneath us so that I could see the dark olive-grey of his skin. 
That was to be my last sight of a marine crocodile for nearly twenty- 
five years. 


4 An Interlude with Snakes 

BALI was the nearest I ever got to paradise. I found the peace 
and beauty of the island growing on me, and I sometimes 
wonder whether I would ever have left had the Silver Prince not 
called again four months after I arrived to remind me that it was 
time to be getting back to America and reality. 

I had my film to sell and my career as a research scientist to pick 
up. So, reluctantly, I said good-bye to my actors and actresses, 
packed the old de Brie cameras and climbed sadly aboard the 
Silver Prince with my three monkeys. \ had not the heart to take Jake 
away from an island where life was so good for a tortoise of such 

It was during the slow journey back to Boston with time to 
think over the events of the last four months, that I began to realise 
how much Bali had changed me. When I had gone there I had been 
a scientist. All my attitudes had been those of a scientist and nothing 
had previously made me doubt the supreme importance of dis- 
covering and inventing and progressing as fast as possible. 

Now I still felt that my career would have to continue in science 
but all the old urgency had gone. Progress was not as important as 
it had seemed before, and to me it hardly mattered whether a par- 
ticular scientific advance came this year, or in ten years' time. What 
did seem important was to find a means of halting the destruction 
progress seemed to bring with it and preserving the fullest possible 
record of places like Bali before they were lost for ever. 

While I was thinking about this, the Silver Prince was steaming 
steadily across die Indian Ocean, and suddenly I had a minor scien- 
tific crisis of my own on my hands. A brine pipe that went through 



my cabin sprung a leak shortly after breakfast and by the time it was 
discovered the whole cabin was awash in a foot of salt water. When 
I went in to see what had happened, the first thing that met my eyes 
was a tangled mass of film negative floating on the surface of the 
water. The tins containing my precious film were afloat, and half a 
dozen of them had burst, spilling their contents into the brine that 
was sloshing gently from side to side with the motion of the ship. I 
was lucky to discover what had happened before the disaster 
was complete. 

As it was, everyone aboard came to my aid. The bathtubs 
were filled with fresh water and all the film that had been affected 
by the brine was hurriedly washed. Even so, a few rolls were 
irretrievably damaged as the emulsion had already started to slough 
off in great patches. But I could see that most of the film could still 
be saved if only I could find an effective way of drying it. 

To do this, I planned to stretch ropes from rail to rail across 
decks of the ship, winding the film from rope to rope to dry. 
When I tried this, however, I soon found that there was a stiff 
breeze blowing and that it was carrying up enough spray on to the 
deck to spot the film and make it useless. 

When I pointed this out to the captain, he was most upset and 
insisted on turning the ship round and steaming downwind for 
more than a hundred miles until the film had been completely 
dried and rewound. By now I thought my troubles were over for 
that day, but I was being altogether too optimistic. As I was re- 
winding the film on to the spools, I noticed something peculiar 
about it. Although the film had been properly developed, the dark- 
ness of the negative fluctuated regularly every five or six feet. In- 
stead of being developed uniformly as it should have been, it seemed 
that the whole of my film suffered from these strange variations. 

I soon realised what had happened. To develop the film in the 
dark-room in Bali, it had been wound vertically on to large wooden 
racks and then dipped into deep wooden tanks full of developer. 
After a while, I had trained a team of three Balinese who did all the 
developing for me, and I had left them to get on with it. I used to 
check that they were working properly, but one thing I had ob- 
viously forgotten to remind them about was to stir the developer in 



the tanks. Obviously a considerable difference in temperature had 
gradually appeared between the bottom and the top of the tank. 
The section of film at the bottom of the rack had been getting 
developed far more intensively than that at the top and had pro- 
duced these disastrous fluctuations. 

No audience was ever going to sit through a film that flickered 
from light to dark every few seconds. But as I thought about it, I 
began to see that there might be a way of saving my film after all. 
Essentially, this problem of the variations of intensity on the 
negative was similar to the changes of volume on a radio set that I 
had had to deal with when I invented my automatic volume control 
eighteen months earlier. Once we started printing, if I could only 
vary the light automatically to match the degree of darkness on the 
negative the result would be a perfect print. 

I became convinced that we could do this, and spent the rest of 
the voyage working out the electronic circuits I would need. 

By the time we docked at Boston, I had the solution in theory. 
To put it into practice, I needed the help of one man. His name was 
Dr. Mces and he was head of the research laboratories of Eastman 
Kodak at Rochester. 

But by this time I was almost completely broke. I had sold 
everything to make the film and the film was now the only capital I 
possessed. If I was to do anything with it, I had to get to Rochester 
and Dr. Mees straight away. 

It was snowing in Boston, and when I had spent my last dollars 
buying tickets for the three monkeys and myself, I found that I had 
to get them aboard the train to Rochester in the teeth of a howling 
blizzard. It was a harsh homecoming. 

If you seriously intend keeping animals, you soon learn to stop 
worrying about being considered an eccentric by the public at large, 
but during that journey I felt myself sympathising with my fellow 
passengers when they saw me, huddled in one corner of the com- 
partment with three frozen monkeys. 

I had never met Dr. Mees before, although I knew of him by 
reputation and had written to him for advice about my film and 
equipment before leaving for Bali. But from the moment I reached 
Rochester and telephoned him to explain my plight, he was help- 



fulness itself. He discussed my plans for automatically correcting 
and printing my film with obvious scepticism, but he nevertheless 
put laboratory facilities at my disposal and, with great kindness, 
offered to lend me money to pay for my hotel. 

For six weeks I worked non-stop to perfect a machine that 
would save my film; in the end I succeeded. The machine pro- 
duced a perfect print of all the footage which had been saved from the 
brine bath. More important still for my immediate purposes, the 
Eastman Kodak Company became interested in the automatic print- 
ing device, and on the strength of it Dr. Mees offered me a job in 
his research laboratory. It meant coming back to the laboratory 
routine I had escaped from when I went to Bali, but I knew I would 
not be independent until I had edited my Bali material into a sale- 
able film, and gratefully accepted. 

As it turned out, the arrangement was to be most satisfactory. 
I moved to a company-owned cottage that was ideal as a home and 
ideal for the animals. At the same time, I got the chance, through 
Dr. Mees, of working on a line of research very close to my heart. 
The Eastman Kodak Company was concerned at the time with 
developing new methods of recording sound on film; I had the 
basic knowledge for this and was soon able to become something 
of a specialist in sound recording techniques. 

Rather to my surprise, I found that I settled down to life in 
Rochester. This was partly because I got on so well with many of 
the unusual people who made up the staff of the laboratory. In the 
room next to mine, for instance, were two young musicians not 
chemists or physicists, but musicians who were working away on a 
project that had been unofficially christened "Dr. Mec's Folly/' 
Leopold Godowski was a virtuoso violinist. Leopold Mannes was a 
pianist. While they had still been at music school, they had become 
obsessed with photography and had formed the absurd idea absurd 
to anyone but themselves and apparently Dr. Mees that they 
could invent a system of colour photography. I used to lunch with 
them most days when I was at the laboratory and although I 
enjoyed their company I never fully made up my mind whether 
they were geniuses or misguided optimists. Little did I know, 
when Mannes and Godowski made me look through a magnifying 

Below, the author with his nurse at Ypres. Above, his parents: 
"my father was something of a puritan and a stern disciplinarian" 

Frank Buck and the author. "At this time Frank Buck 
was one of the heroes of America! 1 

Ttw Ajricm elepfcmfc 

Elephants "like some solid grey army on the march" 

An African elephant. "You start of fey thinking they are very large 
and very simple. Then you gradually realise that however long you 
study them you will never entirely understand them 

On the 'Station de Capture et de Dressage des Elephants at Gm S ala-w-Bodio in 
the Congo, almost the only phce where African elephants were taught to work 


glass at experimental bits of coloured film, that I "was actually 
witnessing the birth of Kodachrome film. 

Since 1942, when I changed from shooting my film an black and 
white to colour, I must have used over three-quarters of a million 
feet of their film myself, and I often think of those two young 
musicians I used to have lunch with in the Eastman Kodak canteen 
and how much I have depended on their invention for my own 
living during the last twenty years. 

Another reason why I found the routine of Efe agreeable at 
Rochester was that the hours suited me. I had previously been in the 
habit, when engaged on a research project, of working late at night 
and as there seemed little point in returning home at three or four in 
the morning, I often worked through the night and into the next day. 
I had no regular hours of sleep, for work or for meals, and certainly 
not for leisure. This sort of thing was not encouraged by the 
Eastman Kodak Company it was not even permitted. At 5.30 you 
were supposed to go home, and home you went, even though you 
felt that a momentous discovery was just around the corner. 

So, for the first time in my life, I had leisure long evenings and 
long week-ends. The inevitable consequence was a renewal of iny 
interest in animals. 

The neighbours complained when I began building a large cage 
for the monkeys in my back garden, but luckily, about this time, the 
Eastman Kodak Company decided to offer me $5,000 for the patent 
of the automatic printer. I accepted, and on the strength of this I 
was able to move into a larger house just outside the town where I 
could give my animals the sort of accommodation they deserved. 
I had a large, centrally-heated study and the three monkeys had a 
room to themselves. At last I felt free to collect any animals I 
wanted and for my new collection I decided on snakes. 

Although I had had grass snakes as a boy, I had never been able 
to collect snakes seriously before because of the shortage of space, 
and the prejudice of people round about. Most people have an 
entirely illogical horror of snakes that I have never really been able 
to share or understand. For I have always had a weak spot for them. 
I find their movements graceful. I admire the neatness of their 
construction. Their efficiency appeals to me and I think of the 



texture and the decoration of their skin as the nearest nature gets to 
jewellery in an animal. 

Of course, you need patience with snakes, and with those rather 
less common varieties which are provided with venom and fangs 
you do have to exercise a great deal of care, but the United States are 
a snake collector's paradise and there are probably more snakes per 
square mile in New York State than in any tropical area of the world. 

There are not only the garter snakes with their widely diversified 
markings on olive skins, but the startling rnilk snakes, with the silver 
and mahogany of their colouring forming a brilliant pattern. There 
are also the green grass snakes, the ring-necked snakes, the red-bellied 
snakes and many others. 

The local poisonous, and decidedly dangerous snnkcs are the 
copperheads and the rattlesnakes, as forbidding looking and as 
handsome as any of the tropical snakes although, in my opinion, they 
are less aggressive and far less frequently fatal Often when people have 
died as the result of a rattlesnake bite, it is because they have literally 
been scared to death, or else because they have drunk so much 
whisky as a supposed antidote to the venom, that their natural 
resistance has gone. 

I captured my own rattlesnakes and copperheads, of course, and 
was rather proud of them. 

Then unexpectedly, my interest hi snakes became quite useful. A 
subsidiary of Eastman Kodak, called Eastman Teaching Films, heard 
of my collection and commissioned me to make a film on the 
reptiles of North America. They reached this decision just as the 
northern New York State winter began in all its harshness; hardly 
the season for snakes. But I made the film with my old de Brie 
camera, in my double garage which I converted into a studio. In 
the middle of the garage I rigged up a stage with sand, pebbles and 
cactus plants borrowed from a local flower shop to imitate the 
landscape of Arizona and the Painted Desert. Luckily the house 
was already full of horned toads, gila monsters, hog-nosed snakes, 
and alligators, and I managed to obtain specimens of the other 
poisonous snakes of North America coral snakes from Florida 
and cottonmouth moccasins from Georgia. 

Every evening I toiled away in my improvised studio, muffled up 



to the ears in heavy overcoat, woollen scarf and sheepskin lined 
boots, with the snow blowing in through the cracks around the 
doors, several oil stoves going full blast, and 2,000 watts of artificial 
sunshine pouring down from a pair of sun lamps upon the hapless 
lizards in my synthetic cactus garden. 

For a crested iguana I had to send all the way to Snake King's 
Reptile Emporium at Brownsville, Texas; the poor creature arrived 
at my house during a particularly cold spell, and when I opened his 
box I found Mm stiff with cold. I felt sure he had succumbed to the 
rigours of the journey, but placed on the stage under the heat of the 
2,000 watt lamp, he surprisingly revived not only well enough to 
play his part in the film quite creditably, but to become a pet who 
lived in my household for many months and apparently thrived 
all five feet of him. He was emerald green in colour, with a mag- 
nificent scaly crest and a kindly, gentle disposition. 

By the time I had finished the Eastman film, my collection ran 
to well over 200 specimens. I had enjoyed making the film and had 
learned a great deal about reptiles of North America in the process. 

But a film like this was a poor substitute for the sort of filming 
I had already had a taste of in Bali, and it was while I was making 
this teaching film that I began to get my first twinges of restlessness 
again. One plan I had which, if successful, would set me travelling 
again involved old Mr. Eastman himself. I had got to know him 
quite well during the first months I was working for the company. 
By then, of course, he was aged and ill ; 1 suppose he was already 
suffering from cancer. He was giving away much of his immense 
fortune to build Eastman Dental Clinics in different cities throughout 
the world. But he was still interested in travel and while I was 
editing my film from Bali, he had specially asked to see some of the 
footage. I showed it to him in the private cinema m his house. 

He liked what he saw, and after this used to invite me to his 
house quite often. He had, in his lifetime, given away millions of 
dollars to music. He had his own private organist you always 
heard an organ playing inside his enormous mansion w T hen you 
entered and it was this that persuaded me to mention the music of 
Bali to him. There was just a chance that he might forget about his 
dental clinics for a moment. 


"Music has always meant so much to you, Mr. Eastman," I said. 
"Why don't you arrange to record the music of Bali. It's unique and 
it's not going to last. If someone like you does not have it recorded, 
it will be lost for ever." 

The old man looked at me thoughtfully. 

"Tell me, Mr. Denis," he said at last. *' These Balinese of yours. 
What are their teeth like?" 

Without thinking what I was saying, I replied, "Their teeth are 
fine, Mr. Eastman. They have no dentists. The Balinese will lose 
their music long before they lose their teeth." 

That was the end of the conversation, and of my chances of 
getting to Bali on a recording trip sponsored by the Eastman Kodak 
Company. But luckily my friendship with Mr. Eastman survived 
and it was through him that I met the two people who were truly 
the pioneers of what I would be doing myself within a few years. 
Their names were Martin and Osa Johnson. Martin Johnson was a 
gentle, dedicated man who had been a small town photographer in 
Kansas before going to sea with Jack London as a cook on one of his 
voyages. This had given him an insatiable love of travel, and after he 
had married Osa, the two of them had formed a husband and wife 
team driving across Africa and Asia and filming as they went. 

The two of them became close friends of Eastman. He used to 
back their trips and they would always visit him at Rochester to 
show him their latest films after one of their journeys. I met them 
there several times and saw many of their films in Eastman's private 
cinema. I admired the Johnsons greatly, but I also felt sure that if I 
could only get enough backing and experience, I could make better 
films than theirs. If I could do this, nothing should stop me having 
their sort of life and travelling wherever I wanted. 

For by this time, despite my animals and my friends at the 
laboratory, I was feeling my old urge to travel again. For the first 
time in my life, I began to resent the size and sameness of America. 
There was nothing wrong with. Rochester. I still think of it as one 
of the most agreeable provincial towns in the States. But on a 
Friday night I would plan a week-end vacation, load my old Packard 
and drive five or six hundred miles, only to arrive at exactly the 
same sort of town as the one I had left, with the same church, the 



same bank, the same Woohvorth ten-cent store and the same 

In Europe, or in the parts of Asia I had seen on my way to Bali, 
a drive like that would have taken me through several countries and 
shown me an endless variety of race, of architecture, of custom. 
Here it was as if I had stayed on exactly the same spot and suddenly 
this physical sense of the size and uniformity of America seemed to 
sum up the effect that science and progress were having everywhere 
throughout the world. Richness and variety were constantly suc- 
cumbing to sameness and uniformity and I suddenly felt an almost 
obsessive compulsion to see what was left of the world before it was 
too late. 

Something inside me told me that if I went on playing it safe, I 
would regret it for the rest of my life and I made up my mind that I 
would gamble on any good chance that offered. The chance came 
sooner than I expected. 

For several months after I settled in Rochester I had been working 
in my spare time on the film I had shot in Bali. I had had to teach 
myself film editing by watching other films at the local cinema, so 
that the whole process of cutting the material into a complete 
eighty minute performance, took far longer than it would to-day. 
I had an old Moviola viewing machine that I kept in one of the 
bedrooms, and I would work laboriously away at, it running 
the reel of films through one by one and over and over again, 
and snipping out the footage I wanted with a pair of scissors. 

But finally my film was complete. All I had to do was to sell 
it. Here, of course, my absolute ignorance of the film world began 
to show. I had not the slightest idea how to sell a film, or even how 
much it was worth. I had to learn the hard way. For several months 
I had a terrible time travelling into New York whenever I could find 
the time from the laboratory and doing the rounds from the agents 
to the film companies and from the film companies back to the 
agents again. 

I sat through "Goona Goona" countless times in the attempt to 
sell it, but the reaction always seemed to be the same. It was "too 
arty" for America. It was very pretty, "But hell, who's interested 



in a place called Bali ?" and 1 would take the train back to Rochester 
with my cans of film, unsold and apparently unwanted. 

Then, when I had really given up all hope about the film, I 
heard from an agent I had seen several months before. He wanted a 
print of the film. He wanted it in a hurry, and the next thing I knew 
was that he had sold the distribution rights in France for $35,000, 
and "Goona Goona" was showing for sixteen weeks at the Marigny 
Theatre on the Champs-Ely sees. 

After this, the story of "Goona Goona" in America was even 
more remarkable. The agent sold it for American distribution on the 
strength of its success in Paris. The film made a lot of money 
really a lot of money for some people. If I had not been so green 
and ignorant of the film business, it would have made a lot of money 
for me too. But I watched, appalled and slightly dazed, as the film 
companies turned on a super-heated publicity campaign to exploit 
the film on Broadway. When I went to attend the opening and 
saw that they were selling "Goona Goona" milk-shakes in the milk- 
bars around Times Square there were also "Goona Goona Sun- 
daes" in the drugstores; recipe: two scoopfuls of chocolate ice- 
cream, side by side, topped by two maraschino cherries I knew 
that I had finally arrived. 


" Wild Cargo " 

IT was several months after I had sold "Goona Goona" that a 
telegram arrived at my house in Rochester, asking me to come 
to New York at once. The signature was that of a prominent film 
backer, but I was sceptical of film men by now and did not bother 
to reply. A few days later, another telegram arrived from him, 
more urgent than the first. There were several things I wanted to 
do in New York and this seemed as good an excuse to go as any 
other, so I cabled back that I was coming and took a couple of days 
off from the laboratory. 

I had no experience of film moguls at this time, and at first was 
rather puzzled by the man I met. He was a tall, sad-looking indi- 
vidual with an office in Wall Street and he spent the first ten minutes 
of our conversation saying how much he had enjoyed "Goona 
Goona." But I knew he had not paid my fare to New York merely 
to be polite about a film he probably had not even seen and I waited 
to find out what he really wanted. 

There was a slight pause in the conversation, and I gathered the 
preliminaries were over. 

"What d'you know about Frank Buck?" he asked, watching me 

"Buck?" I said. "I've never met him, but if half of what I've 
read about him is true he must be quite a man." 

This was something of an understatement, for at this time 
Frank Buck was one of the heroes of America. The Buck legend had 
started with a series of articles in Colliers Magazine with the rousing 
title of "Bring 'em Back Alive," describing how this tough, resolute 
adventurer with the tropical helmet and the Errol Flynn moustache 



roved the jungles of the world to bring back wild animals to the 
zoos and circuses of the United States. The articles were well written. 
They captured the popular imagination and Frank Buck had been 
an overnight success. 

"We've just finished a film with Buck called 'Bring 'Em Back 
Alive'/' said the film man. " He's making a million. We want him 
to start on another straight away. There's big money in Buck. 
We'd like your help." 

"What sort of help?" I said, 

"I'd like to be honest with you, Mr. Denis," replied the film 
man, puffing at his cigar. "Don't misunderstand me. Frank's a 
wonderful fellow and he's going to be great box office. He blows 
how to act, but, confidentially, we think he's taking too many risks 
with these animals of his." 

"But isn't that his job?" I said innocently. 

"Sure," replied the film man. "I tell you he's a wonderful guy. 
But he's worth a lot of money to a lot of people. We want someone 
to keep an eye on him someone like yourself who knows about 
animals. This new film of his has locations all over the world and 
we don't want anything to go wrong, if you understand what I 

Our eyes met and I understood what he meant all too well. 

"What you need is a director," I said. 

"Sure," he said easily. " If you want to be a director, the job's 

"You say the film's on location around the world. Where?" 

The film man waved airily with his cigar. "Everywhere there's 
wild animals. Ceylon for elephants, India for tigers, Malaya for 
cobras. If you know where to find a sabre-toothed tiger outside the 
Natural History Museum, you can go there as well." 

It all seemed slightly absurd, but a year around the world at a 
film company's expense was too much to resist. So when I caught 
the train back from New York that evening I carried a signed con- 
tract to direct Frank Buck in a film called "Wild Cargo" at two 
hundred and fifty dollars a week, plus a substantial percentage. It 
was only during the months to come that I discovered what the 
contract really involved. 



To start with, everything went at a great pace. Nobody in 
Rochester seemed particularly surprised when I announced I wax> 
leaving to make another film, and when I explained that I would be 
working with the great Frank Buck they were reassuringly im- 
pressed. Of course, my animals were something of a problem. I 
had to take the snakes and lizards to suitable places of the woods to 
release them. As for the three Balinese monkeys, they seemed quite 
happy to find a home in the Rochester Zoo, and less than a month 
after I had signed my contract I was back in New York, meeting 
Frank Buck and all ready to sail on the "Wild Cargo" expedition. 

I found Buck something of an enigma. He seemed very much 
on his dignity from the start. He was every bit as good-looking as 
his photographs, but whenever I asked him about any of his animals, 
he would usually manage to change the subject. I remember asking 
him what equipment he would be taking for the jungle. "Jungle ?" 
he said. "I intend to stay at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and I 
think they'll have most of the equipment I need there already." 

On the voyage across the Atlantic we kept out of each other's 
way and agreed to split the party after we had arrived at South- 
ampton, Buck embarked straight away on a P. & O. ship sailing to 
Singapore, and gave his address as the Raffles Hotel I took the 
camera team with me Roy Phelps and Nick Cavalieri and 
made separate arrangements to travel to Ceylon, fixing a date six 
weeks ahead when we would all meet again in Singapore to com- 
plete the film. 

This suited me excellently, for apart from giving me a chance 
to get used to the camera team on my own, it also allowed me to 
spend a few days in Antwerp before crossing Europe by train to 
pick up a boat at Genoa. This was the first time I had seen my 
parents for several years and I was glad to find them completely 
unchanged. My father, of course, made a great show of pretending 
to disapprove of what he called "my Americanisation" and also of 
my films. His attitude was that it was not quite dignified for ajudge's 
son to allow himself to get mixed up with the cinema. 

But at the same time he was clearly fascinated by what I was 
doing. During the four days we were in Antwerp we made a short 
film on the city and my father insisted on helping. He even con- 



sented to act as an extra for us and I filmed him buying some flowers 
from a stall in the flower market, but I noticed that as soon as we 
had finished filming, he handed the flowers back to the woman and 
got his money back. I should explain that my father was not mean. 
He was what the French call "econome." He believed that money 
should be prudently laid out for certain definite ends, and that to 
waste money was not only immoral, but one of the highest forms of 

From Genoa, we had a leisurely journey out to Ceylon and to 
start with, everything about this new life of mine seemed perfect. 
Buck was several thousand miles away in Singapore. I had excellent 
cameramen who proved to be loyal and good companions, and 
Ceylon itself seemed to be overflowing with suitable scenes of wild 
life for our film. 

First we filmed the Keddha, the spectacular annual round-up 
of wild elephants from the forest. This was my first sight of elephants 
in the wild and I was fascinated as I watched them being stampeded 
into the great stockade where they were sorted out, the young ones 
released and the most likely looking animals selected for training. 

But what impressed me even more than the wild elephants were 
the tame ones the elephant owners used to train the new arrivals. 
Each freshly captured elephant was assigned a mahout and a re- 
liable "monitor" an elephant specially trained to look after the new 
capture and accustom it to the ways of men. I was soon to see an 
example of just how intelligent these monitor elephants could be. 

Once a year in Kandy, the capital of Ceylon, a great celebration 
is held to mark the day when the temple acquired the tooth that is 
said to be the tooth of the Buddha himself. It is all intensely colour- 
ful, with pilgrims flocking in from the whole of southern India. 
The climax of the day consists of a great procession in which as 
many as a hundred and fifty elephants take part, and I decided that 
here was a scene that could have been made for our film. 

The only trouble was that the procession took place at night 
and in those days I had had little experience of night filming. Of 
course I knew how to do it in theory. In those days, you used large 
magnesium flares that burned like fireworks. What I did not know 
was just how fiercely these things ignited, throwing out showers of 



sparks and clouds of white smoke, and that once they had been lit 
nothing on earth could extinguish them until they had burned out 
of their own accord. 

Our luck seemed to be in when I discovered that the procession 
was due to pass directly in front of our hotel. So a couple of hours 
after sunset we stationed our cameras on the balcony, set up the 
flares and waited. We still had some time to spare although the 
crowds below became steadily denser, and it was nearly midnight 
before we heard the noise of the procession approaching. First 
came the men with the drums and the torches. Then followed the 
dancers, the acrobats, the jugglers and the holy men. And last of all, 
with great dignity, making their stately way to the temple, came 
the elephants, richly caparisoned, carrying elaborate howdahs in 
each of which stood three or four priests or dignitaries. This was 
the moment I wanted and when the largest and most impressive of 
the elephants was right in front of the balcony, I gave the signal to 
light the flares and start the cameras. 

If I had realised how dangerous this was going to be I would 
never have done it, for not only did I completely underestimate the 
brilliance of the flares, but I also failed to notice the two younger 
elephants walking on either side of the great bull I was so keen on 
getting in the centre of my picture. These two elephants had been 
captured less than a year before and were still not properly trained. 
Hardly had the flares been lit when they began to panic. 

They stopped dead. They began to bellow. Their ears went 
forward, and I thought that at any moment one of them would 
charge. The crowd thought so too, and there was pandemonium 
as everyone tried to disperse through the narrow alleys and the 
crowded side streets. 

It was a terrible thing to watch, knowing that I was responsible 
for the situation, and that there was nothing I could do about it. 
The flares were burning away with a loud hissing noise, and 
were completely inextinguishable. If one elephant charged I knew 
that hundreds of people would be crushed to death, and all I could 
do was to watch, powerless, from my balcony, hoping that someone 
would manage to calm the elephants before it was too late. 

At the last moment, the elephants were calmed but not by any- 



one in the crowd. I saw the old bull elephant that I had been so 
anxious to film, calmly raise his trunk and place it reassuringly on 
the neck of the young elephant on his left. Then he did the same 
with the one on his right and they calmed down just as horses will 
when someone they know pats them on the shoulder. Those flares 
seemed to burn for ever, but all the time the old elephant kept 
calming the two others, and the procession went forward with- 
out any trouble. 

Luckily we had recorded the entire scene on our cameras so 
that when we left Ceylon for Singapore a few days later, I was 
certain that "Wild Cargo" was already well on the way to becoming 
a great success. But I had reckoned without Frank Buck. 

I called on him as soon as we arrived at Singapore. Although 
he was very affable, he seemed to have not the remotest interest 
in the film we had shot in Ceylon. He had a projector in his 
suite and we ran several of the best scenes that afternoon but he 
kept shaking his head. 

"It's no good, Armand," he'd say as the elephants thundered 
in through the stockade at the Keddha. " There's just no kick in 
this stuff. It's not what folks pay their money at the cinema 
to see." 

Well, I thought, he should know what he is talking about. So 
when the scenes were finished and Buck suggested taking me out 
to his camp to show me the arrangements he had made for the next 
day's filming, I went along in the hope of finding out what he 
thought an animal film should be. 

"Armand," he said, when we were sitting comfortably in the 
back of his car, " that stuff of yours was fine but tame. Far too tame. 
Now I've a wonderful idea." 

He leant back and puffed at his cigarette. 

"Now how's about a fight to the death between a tiger and an 
orang-utan ?" 

I thought he was joking and started to laugh before 1 realised he 
was in deadly earnest. 

"Well," I said cautiously, " orang-utan occurs in Borneo and 
Sumatra; there are tigers also in Sumatra, so it is not inconceivable 
that an orang-utan and a tiger could meet but surely if they did, 



they'd just avoid each other. Animals don't normally fight to the 
death for nothing." 

"Don't they, eh?" replied Buck "When I'm around they do/' 

Buck's camp, which I had imagined to be somewhere in the heart 
of the jungle, was a great disappointment to me. It was a hundred 
yards or so off the main road, in Johore Bahra, just across the cause- 
way from Singapore, on the edge of a rubber plantation. The 
camp was indeed conveniently near to the Raffles Hotel, the race 
track and the other amenities of Singapore, but it was not even 
faintly reminiscent of jungle. It consisted mainly of a few cages 
containing a variety of despondent-looking animals, and of a 
number of enclosures more or less ingeniously camouflaged and in 
which obviously the animals were to be placed for various scenes to 
be photographed. With a sinking heart I began to realise what was 
expected of me. 

The best example of how things would be staged was a scene 
involving Frank Buck and a tiger. The general idea was that some- 
where deep in the jungle, Frank Buck had set a trap for a huge man- 
eating tiger. The trap was to be a carefully concealed pit and after 
several days of waiting, the tiger was to fall in. But then there was 
to be trouble. Because of torrential rain, it was to prove impossible 
to bring out the infuriated animal by normal means and Buck was 
to be lowered into the pit himself to bring out the tiger single- 
handed. Armed with nothing more lethal than a lasso and a whip 
between his teeth, he was to truss the man-eater up like a chicken 
and then watch him being dragged harmlessly out. 

Buck proudly explained the theme to me soon after 1 arrived in 
Singapore, and took me out to the camp one afternoon to show me 
the arrangements he had made to shoot the scene. The location was 
on a stretch of low-lying waste land near the causeway connecting 
Singapore and the mainland. The pit had been dug. The location 
was lined all round with a dense mass of bamboo and undergrowth 
specially brought to make it look like a patch of deep jungle and 
Buck told me that the tiger would be brought over to-morrow for 
the shooting to start. 

I was puzzled to see a large red fire-engine standing close to the 




pit, its engine chugging away, and asked Buck what part it had to 
play in the scenario. He explained that they had had trouble with 
the pit filling with water which was seeping in faster than it could be 
bailed out with buckets. He had had the idea of telephoning the 
Singapore Fire Brigade who had obligingly lent this engine of 
theirs to keep the pit pumped dry. The pipe was well concealed 
and all seemed well. 

Shooting was due to begin next morning, and Roy Phelps, Nick 
and I were out at the location early. The fire-engine was still there 
chugging away, and a few minutes after we arrived, a large truck 
drove up. Inside was one of the stars for the day's filming a large 
placid old tiger specially hired from a local animal dealer. As he 
was taken out of die truck, I thought he had one of the kindest faces 
I had ever seen. 

While we were waiting for Buck to arrive, some of the men 
itarted fitting the tiger into a special harness that had been made for 
him. This was to keep him in check during the film whenever 
Buck approached him, and the success of the film would depend on 
the skill with which the film editor cut out the excessively revealing 
parts afterwards. 

The old tiger submitted to all this in an amiable sort of way and 
when he had been carefully buckled up and lowered into position 
in the pit, Frank Buck arrived. 

He really was most impressive with his gleaming boots, his 
immaculate jodhpurs, and his great rhinoceros-hide whip. He did not 
speak much, but the cameramen knew what to do and the filming 
of the preliminary scenes started. The tiger was filmed in his appar- 
ently desperate attempt to get out of the pit. Buck's assistants ap- 
peared, cowering with fright, and then Buck himself was shot peer- 
ing down at the tiger and calmly evaluating the situation. 

We were just about to get on with the real climax of the film 
where Buck descended into the pit, when we had an interruption. 
It began to rain a sudden torrential downpour. 

Further filming was out of the question, and we all had to take 
refuge in the camp until the shower was over. 

When the rain cleared and we returned to the pit, disaster had 
struck. The heavy ram had washed great chunks of mud into the 



pit, choking the pump of the fire engine. The water level inside the 
pit had risen several feet and the old tiger, held as he was in his har- 
ness, had quietly drowned. 

In my innocence, I thought that would have to be the end of the 
scene or certainly of shooting for that day until we got another 
tiger, but Buck had other ideas. The pump was cleaned out and 
started again. Then, when the pit was pumped dry, Buck gave the 
signal for the shooting to start. 

It was quite a scene and Frank Buck was at his most impressive. 
He advanced towards his adversary, and for breathless minutes he 
did battle with the corpse of the drowned tiger. When I saw the 
finished film on the screen back in New York a few months later, 
I was surprised to find the battle with the tiger remarkably con- 

If I had been free I would have walked out of "Wild Cargo'* soon 
after I arrived, but I had signed a contract to make the film and Buck, 
given the privilege of choosing all the locations, animals and epi- 
sodes, was virtually the boss. 

So I stayed on in Singapore for several months until the filming 
of " Wild Cargo" was finished. There was no particular cruelty to 
the animals. The tiger was the only casualty of the entire film, but 
most of the time I felt as if I was working on a Marx Brothers 
comedy, instead of what was supposed to be a deadly serious film 
about the wild. 

There was the strange case of the East Indian rhino that I was 
surprised to find in a large stockade in the camp. One of the episodes 
of "Wild Cargo'* was to include an adventure between Buck 
and a rhino and this animal had been procured for us at great expense 
from the jungles of Nepal, brought overland to Calcutta and shipped 
out to Singapore. Even in those days, the East Indian rhino had been 
hunted so savagely that it was already one of the rarest animals in the 
world and the whole species was faced with extinction. Because of 
this, our rhino arrived with a special attendant, an elderly Nepalese 
who had obviously been told that his life would not be worth living 
if anything happened to his precious charge. 

The old man was devoted to his rhino. He never left his side 



but fed him and watered him himself and at night used to sleep 
alongside him in his box. Even so, his presence had not entirely 
guaranteed the safety of the rhino. Already on the journey from 
Raxaul to Calcutta, someone had managed to gouge a substantial 
chunk out of the animal's horn and someone else had made a deter- 
mined attempt to slice off its ear. For the obsessional faith the 
oriental world maintains in the aphrodisiac qualities of a rhino's 
horn also extends although to a lesser degree to the rest of its 
body. Several more attempts were made on the rhino in Singapore 
and in the end we had to build a kind of fortified enclosure around 
it and engage the services of a pair of Indian policemen to keep watch 
alongside the old Nepalese. 

At first we all felt sorry for the exacting life the old man seemed 
to be leading, but then one day we discovered that his job had a 
lucrative side to it. In Singapore that summer, the heat was intense 
and several of us kept a stock of beer in one of the huts near the 
rhino compound, so that we could have a cool drink with our 
lunch. But one day when I opened a bottle I had a surprise. For 
the bottle contained something quite different from the drink I had 
been looking forward to all the morning. The fuss I made soon 
brought out the old Nepalese from the other side of the hut and from 
the look of guilt and embarrassment on his face I could see that he 
had something to do with the disaster. He soon admitted every- 

Ever since his arrival he had done a roaring local trade in rhino 
urine. He carefully collected the stuff night and morning and sold it 
as an aphrodisiac to the Singapore Chinese at 50 cents a bottle 
our bottles. For the old man had marketed the precious fluid in 
our empty beer bottles, hence the confusion when his stock and ours 
had become mixed. 

One thing that could be said for the old man was that he firmly 
believed in the quality of his wares. Every night and morning, when 
he had filled his bottles, he would personally drink a full pint of the 
rejuvenating liquid and he told me that it was to this that he ascribed 
continued good health and potency at his advanced age. 

Unfortunately, the entirely unfounded but apparently unshak- 
able belief of the East in the aphrodisiac properties of the rhinoceros 


is not usually as harmless as this. The demand for rhino horn seems 
to be insatiable and the high prices paid for it have created a market 
for the horns that has brought rhinos in many places to the verge of 
extinction. For it is not only the East Indian rhino that has nearly 
been hunted out of existence for its horn. Even in Africa, where 
poaching of both the white and black rhino has reached the most 
serious scale, the horn invariably ends up being sold to the merchants 
of the East. 

Towards the end of the time we were working on "Wild 
Cargo" I think I would have found the whole film even more 
intolerable than I did if it had not been for Singapore itself. But I 
soon found that it was a surprisingly good centre for buying animals. 
In those days its animal dealers were among the best in the world, 
and with my collector's mania, I was soon finding their wares 
quite irresistible. For several weeks I actually kept a baby 
orang-utan in my bedroom in the Raffles Hotel. He was a most 
affectionate pet and adapted perfectly to hotel life. He slept on the 
bottom of my bed, and did extremely well on a diet of fruit, raw 
eggs and cream. But although I loved him dearly, I finally decided 
that he was already becoming too rumbustious for the long journey 
back to the States aboard the luxury Japanese liner that was due to 
take me back to New York, and sadly gave him to a friend to keep. 

A still more unusual pet that I acquired at this time in Singapore 
was a large Malayan fruit-eating bat These animals have a wing-span 
of five feet and are considered a great table delicacy among the 
Malays. I first saw them after they had been shot, hanging in great 
bunches for people to buy on the stalls in the market place, and told 
one of the men selling them that if he could get me one alive I 
would pay him five times the price he got for a dead one. A few 
days later he turned up at the Raffles Hotel with a krge cardboard 
box under his arm. Inside, extremely nervous, but in excellent 
condition, lay my enormous fruit bat. 

At first I thought he was going to be difficult to train, but I soon 
found him one of the most intelligent animals I have ever had. He 
had brilliant black eyes, a head rather like a small jackal and enor- 
mous wings. He soon became surprisingly affectionate. He 
normally spent all day asleep, hugging the curtains as close as possible 



to the ceiling, but as soon as I entered the room he would clamber 
down, scramble clumsily across the floor, and climb up my legs and 
on to my shoulder. Although he meant well, this was painful, as 
he had needle-sharp claws on the ends of his wings and it was these 
he used for climbing, digging them right through my clothes and 
putting all his weight on them until I seemed to be bleeding all over. 
At first he used to bite a good deal too not aggressively so much as 
out of sheer nervousness and his teeth, like his claws, were amaz- 
ingly sharp and he seemed to have three rows of them extending all 
the way round his mouth. 

After a few days he lost his nervousness and stopped biting. At 
night he would sleep hanging from the mosquito net above my 
bed and he would make a dreadful mess : a fruit bat, like a monkey, 
is not really conscious of his intestinal functions and can never be 
effectively house-tramed. During the day his company was delight- 
ful and I would often take him out walking with me. He would fly 
ahead, sail up into a tree, and then, when I called he would 
come back at once and alight on my arm or my shoulder. To 
make sure that nobody tried to shoot him for dinner, I had a collar 
made for him and a thin chain and whenever I had any business in 
Singapore I would leave him tied up in some safe place so that I knew 
where he would be when I came back. Although I did not know it, 
this was to be his undoing. 

Early one afternoon, I had to visit someone on the outskirts of 
Singapore and arranged to tie up my bat in the shade of a tree in the 
garden. Everything seemed all right. The bat was happy, and went 
to sleep hanging from a low branch. Unfortunately, I was away 
much longer than I meant to be, and although the bat was still fast 
asleep when I came back, the sun had moved so far that he was no 
longer in the shade and his wings had got badly sunburned. 

For a fruit bat, sunburn is no minor matter. His wings started 
to peel and after a few days there was hardly anything left of the 
membrane covering them. He was perfectly well in himself, but his 
wings lost all their skin and he was soon looking exactly like an old 
umbrella that had lost its cover in a gale. The skin showed no sign 
o f growing again, and the sad thing was that he never seemed to 
realise he had lost the power of flight. 



He was as cheerful and as affectionate as ever, but he would 
clamber up into a tree, launch himself confidently into space and 
tumble sadly to the ground. He was remarkably game and survived 
any number of falls, although I did my best to stop him hurting 
himself. But in the end he caught one of the exposed ends of his 
wings in a nail projecting from a wall and he was in such pain that 
I had to destroy him. 

It was shortly after this that "Wild Cargo" was mercifully 
finished. As I have explained, I had already got rid of my baby 
orang-utan, but I was determined not to leave Singapore without an 
animal of some kind. So just before we sailed, I bought two young 
gibbons and succeeded in smuggling them aboard the ship. 

The gibbons themselves were the most beautiful creatures. They 
were golden gibbons, the most graceful and appealing of all apes or 
monkeys. They came from the Malayan jungles and, with their 
huge wide-apart eyes, always seemed to have the most soulful 
expression on their faces. 

I think everything would have been all right on the journey 
home if my passage had not been booked by the film company in 
true film company style. The shipping people assumed that I was 
some top Hollywood film mogul and as I was aboard the Tatsuta 
Maru, the crack Japanese liner of those days, I was actually given the 
Emperor of Japan's suite. 

It may have been a great honour, but attention on this scale was 
the last thing I wanted, although for three days I struggled to keep 
my two gibbons under cover in the imperial bathroom. I hung a 
couple of towels from the hot water taps and trickled water down 
them until the atmosphere was as humid as the jungles they came 
from. For myself, I made do with another bathroom I found at the 
end of the passage. 

Of course it could not last, and I think that in the end one of the 
stewards must have betrayed me. The captain came in person to 
find out what I was up to and was obviously deeply shocked to hear 
that I was keeping monkeys in the bathroom of the Emperor of 
Japan. I tried to bluff him off, but he was as determined a little man 
as a Japanese can be, and refused to budge and insisted on peering 
into the bathroom. 



Now gibbons are essentially friendly creatures. They like people 
and as soon as they saw the captain looking in through the bath- 
room door, one of them took a fancy to him and started showing 
his affection in the only way a gibbon knows. He threw his arms 
around his neck and hugged him as if his life depended on it. The 
captain was horrified. Not only was this a dreadful loss of face to 
himself, but these "monkeys" as he kept calling them, were desecrat- 
ing a bathroom that had been hallowed by his Emperor's divine 

But the gibbon hung on tight and slowly I saw the captain's 
expression change. To my surprise, he actually began stroking him, 
and when he started saying "Nice monkey, nice monkey" to him, I 
knew that everything would be all right. 

It still took some time to assure the captain that the gibbons 
would do the Emperor's bathroom no permanent harm, but once I 
had convinced him that they were clean and well-behaved, he seemed 
satisfied. From then on, there was no question of having to get rid 
of them and they actually spent the rest of the voyage playing on 
deck. Long before we reached America, the two gibbons were the 
most popular passengers on board. 

When I was back in America, I found myself in the position I 
had always wanted. Much as I disliked the film, "Wild Cargo" was 
a great success, and through it I had earned myself enough money to 
secure my independence for some while ahead. There was no 
question now of going back to my old job with Eastman Kodak, 
and almost straight away I began planning a new expedition of my 
own. I knew enough of the techniques of film making by now to be 
sure that I could make a professional job of a feature film, and the 
experience of working with Frank Buck made me more certain 
than ever of the type of film this was to be. There was no need to 
fake or to think up impossible adventures with animals as he did. 
The truth was far more exciting. The world was full of peoples and 
animals that needed recording and film was the one way to do it. 
Just as soon as I could raise the money and get together an expedition 
of my own, I intended to be off on my travels again. 


6 Expedition to the Congo 

I SUPPOSE I had always taken it for granted that one day I would 
get to Africa. For anyone as interested in recording wild life 
and primitive tribes as I was, it was the one continent that clearly had 
the most to offer, and even while I was filming "Wild Cargo" I 
had started planning an expedition of my own to get there. 

To-day, Michaela and I reckon that we can be ready to mount a 
filming expedition to almost anywhere in the world "within a week. 
Film and sound equipment is compact and airlines have made 
the world almost too accessible. But in the early 1930*5 things were 
different. First I had to get the right financial backers who would 
leave me free to make the kind of film I wanted. Then I had to 
collect the right equipment with which to make it. Altogether this 
took two years, and cost nie everything I had made directing 
"Wild Cargo.'* 

During the first months of my return to America I found I had 
an unexpected hindrance. It took the form of one of the gibbons I 
had brought back from Singapore, for gibbons, as I was to discover, 
have one great drawback as pets. They are so affectionate that they 
can become excessively dependent on their owners, and with one of 
the gibbons called Playboy this dependence became so extreme that 
in the end it was a burden to us both. 

This devotion had begun in Singapore. Every night he would 
find his way tinder the mosquito net and curl up beside me on my 
pillow. On the ship his utter dependence on me was no trouble as 
he was the liveliest and most amusing of companions and I had noth- 
ing else to do all day except play with him and make a fuss of him. 
But once we got back to the States his anxiety began to get com- 
pletely out of hand. 



He continued to insist on sleeping beside me and during the day 
wherever I was inside the big house where I lived in Connecticut, 
Playboy would always be outside at the window, peering in to make 
sure he did not lose me. If I moved into another room he would 
swing along the ledge outside until he found me again, whilst if he 
lost me at any time he would become frantic with worry and 
scramble all over the house whimpering like a child. 

Of course he was not like this all the time. His playfulness 
continued, especially when I could find time to be with him in the 
garden. He would often tease me unmercifully if visitors came, and 
then scamper away, climb up into the trees and pretend to hide. 

But there was never any difficulty getting him back. All I had 
to do was to lie motionless on the ground with my eyes closed. 
Within seconds he would be out of his hiding place and down be- 
side me, crying, stroking my hands, and trying to blow into my 
mouth, terrified that I might be hurt. He never seemed to learn 
that I was only pretending, and on these occasions he used to get so 
upset that in the end 1 decided it was simply not fair to take ad- 
vantage of him in this way. 

Another thing that always upset him was the act of crossing a 
bridge. For some reason he hated this. If we were in the car together 
he would always seem to know when we were crossing even the 
smallest stream and immediately begin to cry and cling to me. 

For a while I managed to go on giving Playboy the sort of 
attention he needed. I had a small collar and chain made for him and 
used to take him with me to restaurants and on train journeys and 
even to the theatre. In theatres he would curl up on my lap and go 
to sleep, while in restaurants I would tie his chain to a leg of the table 
and he would wait quite happily until the meal was over. 

As I became more and more involved in the preparations for my 
expedition, coping with Playboy became increasingly difficult. I 
was becoming paralysed by his dependence, and hardly dared leave 
the house without him. 

Finally the time came when I had to go to New York for several 
days. I had people to see and equipment to buy and there was no 
question of taking Playboy this time. So I was as firm with him as I 
could be. I gave him the run of the large, centrally heated basement 



of the house, and after making him as comfortable as I could left him 
with the caretaker. 

I had to stay in New York longer than I intended and on the 
sixth day the caretaker rang my hotel. 

"It's Playboy," he said. "We're very much afraid he is going to 
die. He hasn't eaten since you left. All we can get him to take is a 
little milk and he sits all day hunched up in the corner. The only 
time he moves is when he hears a car, and it's terrible to sec his dis- 
appointment when he realises it's not yours." 

I hurried back as soon as I could. When I entered the room he 
was sitting forlornly on the table, and he walked to the edge and 
tried to jump to me as he always used to. But he was so weak that 
he fell to the ground between us. When I picked him up he just 
clung to me and nothing would loosen his grip. I had to spend the 
rest of the evening coaxing him to eat and feeding him small pieces 
of banana one at a time. 

It was then that I decided that this obsessive friendship between 
us could go on no longer. Luckily I knew that the Rochester Zoo 
already had several gibbons of their own and that he would get the 
best possible attention there. Finally I persuaded the zoo to accept 
him. Once the break was made, it was not as painful as it might have 
been. I used to visit Playboy every day and always received the same 
enthusiastic welcome from him. But in the end he settled down and 
accepted life in the zoo quite happily, whilst I have never kept a 
gibbon, as a personal friend, since. 

With Playboy comfortably settled in the zoo, preparations for the 
expedition could go forward more swiftly, but there was still a 
formidable amount to do. First I had to find my backers; to my 
surprise I discovered more assistance and generosity than I would 
ever have believed possible. All sorts of people helped. The 
Chrysler Company specially adapted a couple of experimental four- 
wheel drive trucks for the expedition and backed me handsomely 
on the understanding that I would make a short film for them on the 
journey. The Texaco oil company guaranteed all my fuel, con- 
tributed ten thousand dollars to my expenses and offered to set up 
depots of petrol at pre-arranged locations for our contemplated 


crossing of "the Sahara in return for general publicity rights over my 
journey. I even had the luck to meet a mining executive with 
interests in Nigeria who commissioned me to make a brief film 
record of any tan mining I saw on the way, in return for a five 
thousand dollar contribution. It soon appeared that finance was 
going to be the least of my worries. 

When the preparations were well under way I got my biggest 
stroke of luck. It was completely unexpected, but it helped settle the 
question of the parts of Africa I was to visit. It also provided 
an invaluable boost to the morale and position of the whole expe- 

As a boy in Belgium I had a friend called Gaston de Witte. 
He had shared my passion for snakes and lizards and when I set off 
on my travels, he had stayed behind in Belgium to become a 
distinguished naturalist. From time to time we had corresponded, 
and now, quite out of the blue, a letter arrived from him telling me 
that the King of the Belgians, Leopold III, and the Belgian authorities 
were anxious to have a scientific documentary film made about the 
great Albert National Park in the Congo. He had suggested me for 
the job, and I had been accepted. 

This meant that I would have more than enough to do. I was 
now commissioned to make three films, quite apart from anything I 
wanted to do on my own account. My expedition that had started 
as a simple journey by road through Africa had become a large- 
scale operation that was clearly going to keep me in Africa for a year 
or more, and there were times when the preparations for all this 
became so complicated that I thought we were never going to get 

I realise now that I made the beginner's mistake of providing 
against too many eventualities. To-day I would regard this ex- 
pedition of mine as overstocked and over-equipped. For instance we 
carried a complete set of spares for the trucks so that if necessary we 
could have completely rebuilt an engine or carried out any major 
overhaul. It was the same with the cameras and the sound equipment. 
I duplicated everything possible and as a result we had so much 
sheer equipment that we had to have a specially built trailer to carry 
it all. 



I was also determined that if necessary, the expedition was going 
to be virtually self-sufficient for its food. We carried a month's 
supply of everything except water, and this grocery list took weeks 
to work out Again I made mistakes. I bought a lot of chocolate 
that was soon to melt in the heat of the Sahara and stick to almost all 
the other stores we carried. I thought that figs and dates would pro- 
vide a welcome change of diet only to find later that they picked up 
the sand that percolated into the trucks and always seemed to taste 
of petrol. 

What probably took the longest time of all to prepare was the 
sound-recording gear. I decided to make my own equipment, 
as there was nothing on the market really suitable for recording in 
the tropics. I knew that we were going to have to rely on this gear 
under extreme conditions, and I wanted to know exactly what was 
inside it. 

So I took great care over it, making double joints on all the 
wiring, buying the highest quality components I could find, and 
practising how to replace any defective part of the equipment until 
I felt I could do it with my eyes shut. 

In these days of transistors and miniaturised equipment it seems 
strange that I was then relying on glow lamp recording on film 
requiring 700 volts of biasing D.C. voltage supplied from a suitcase 
full of dry cells and that I am still making use of the recordings 
I made with this home-made equipment in die Congo in 1935 
and 1936. 

At last by the beginning of 1935, 1 was satisfied that we had left 
nothing to chance and we loaded our two trucks, our trailer and 
our sixteen tons of equipment aboard a freighter in Brooklyn 

There is nothing to equal the excitement of setting out on your 
own expedition and I have never forgotten that early spring morn- 
ing when we sailed down the Brooklyn River bound for Antwerp. 

As soon as I reached Brussels I had to go to the Ministry of Colonies 
to receive an impressive diplomatic passport. 

There was even more to come. The following day the entire 
expedition was summoned to the Royal Palace at Laeken to be 



received in audience by King Leopold and Queen Astrid, and for 
over an hour we talked about the animals of the Congo, about 
Albert National Park, and the great wild life reserve which had been 
founded there by Leopold's father, King Albert. 

After this royal send-off I was feeling decidedly over-confident 
for so inexperienced a traveller, and it needed a few of the minor 
disasters of the journey south to bring me back to reality. In 
Biarritz I succeeded in leading the entire expedition down a blind 
alley at three in the morning and it took us hours to extricate our- 

In Spain we had our spare tyres, all thirty-two of them, stolen 
from us as we slept. But it was when we were actually in Africa, 
crossing the Atlas Mountains on the magnificent new military road 
the French had just built, that the most unexpected trouble of all 
occurred. We were descending through the thick pine forest on the 
far side of the mountains when we got caught in the snow and it was 
so thick that we had to spend the night there. 

Next morning the trucks were frozen. The last thing I had 
thought of providing for an expedition to the Congo was anti- 
freeze for the radiators and it took us nearly the whole morning 
to get moving again. Less than two hours later we were driving 
through the Ziz valley in a temperature approaching 110 and just 
about to get our first glimpse of the Sahara. 

It was not until we reached the Sahara that I really felt we were 
in Africa. I had been prepared for Morocco but here was something 
quite different. For the first time 1 felt the hugeness of the continent. 
I felt its silence and its immense age, and I was excited by it in a way 
I had never been by any other country. 

We planned to drive due south across the Sahara through 
Colomb-Bechar, Adrar, In Salah and Tamanrasset to the northern 
tip of Nigeria and in those days the trail was far rougher than it is 
to-day. In many places the trail did not exist. The French had 
marked the route with empty petrol drums every ten kilometres or 
so; much of die time they were all there was. 

What interested me most about the Sahara was the amount of 
wild life we were able to observe. I had set out with the firm idea 
that the Sahara was an area completely devoid of life. That was what 



all the books on the subject had told me, but the first thing that made 
me think they were probably wrong was the number of flies we saw. 
We were plagued by them right in the middle of the desert and I 
knew that flies could not exist on rock and sand alone. They live and 
breed on the carcases of animals. 

The first explanation was that they lived on the countless birds 
that cross and recross the Sahara during their yearly migrations and 
die en route. Of course our chances of seeing the body of one of 
these birds were remote, but flies are guided by a sense of smell that 
would always send them to any carrion in the desert. 

Finally, I did find some birds myself. In one area the French had 
signposted the trail with corrugated iron markers looking rather 
like small huts raised on stilts six inches or so off the ground. As we 
passed one of these I happened to look down and saw two minute 
birds huddled in the shade it offeredthe only shade for miles 
around. Presumably they were waiting for the cool of the night, 
to continue their journey. Almost every subsequent marker I looked 
under seemed to have a few inhabitants waiting for nightfall. 

Then there were other animals. There is hardly a spot in the 
Sahara that is without a stray tuft of coarse grass somewhere around, 
and I often noticed that these tufts would be surrounded by the tracks 
of minute rodents. These rodents presumably kept themselves alive 
on the roots and seeds of the grass and were obviously nocturnal. 
One evening when we made camp rather later than usual we saw 
some of them. They were very small sand-coloured mice. They 
scuttled out of their burrows to see us and were so absurdly tame 
that they soon started climbing on our shoes and up our legs and 
ended by sitting on the table and sharing our meal with us. 

The overland journey to the Congo took us nearly three months. 
Almost every minor disaster that could afflict an expedition through 
Africa afflicted ours and long before we reached our destination we 
had become inured to the hardship and excitement of this sort of 

Even so, nothing could quite destroy the thrill of arriving in the 
Albert Park. We had been driving all day across the high plateau 
that provides the eastern border of the park. By evening we knew 
we were so near that we just kept on driving. We started our 



descent of the Kabasha escarpment, by moonlight, down the great 
road leading to the Rwindi plains. It was eleven o'clock when we 
saw the first post beside the road marked Pare National Albert, and 
knew we had reached our goal. 

The six months we spent filming in the Albert Park offered a 
unique introduction to the big game of Africa, for the park was 
enormous well over two million acres and as it was long and rela- 
tively narrow, it stretched through an extraordinary diversity of 
landscape and vegetation. In the heart of it, in a triangle of heavy 
forest between the three great mountains, Karisimbi, Bishoke and 
Mikeno, lay the almost inaccessible jungle where the rare mountain 
gorilla was rediscovered at the beginning of this century. 

The Belgian authorities were most reluctant to allow anyone 
into this area and we were permitted to enter only after I had 
solemnly promised to make no attempt to approach or photograph 
the gorillas. This was naturally a great disappointment, but the 
Belgians were worried, not so much for the safety of my party, as 
that a gorilla might try molesting one of us and then be shot in self- 

Originally the park had been created solely as a sanctuary for 
these gorillas, but by 1935 it had been extended enormously and was 
particularly rich in elephants, hippos, lions, leopards and various 
kinds of antelope. But as far as the park authorities were concerned, 
these were not the only animals I was to film. They felt that earlier 
expeditions had already done enough photography of the big fauna 
and that my "scientific" film should concern itself more with the 
small fauna like birds, squirrels, lizards, frogs and insects. 

None of us ever quite decided what a "scientific" film was. 
According to some of die instructions I received from Brussels it 
sounded as if the zoologists there imagined that it meant a record 
of the animals I encountered, without any selection of material, 
of viewpoint, of lighting or of composition. 

Finally I had to make the film according to niy own judgment. 
Even so I found it a hard and exacting job. For six months I travelled, 
most of the time on foot, through tough and mountainous country. 
There was considerable danger. Everything had to be carried by 



porters, and in the end I sent off 40,000 feet of film to Brussek The 
Belgians were pleased with it, but as a film maker I was far happier 
about the less scientific but decidedly more palatable film on the big 
animals of the park that the authorities had permitted me to take 
on my own behalf. 

The time I spent in the Albert Park was really my first serious 
attempt to feature wild animals in their own habitat, and despite the 
confidence with which I arrived in Africa, I found it far harder than I 
had ever imagined. The first problem was simply to get close enough 
to the animals to provide a picture remotely worth looking at. 

I soon found that a wild animal looks a great deal closer and more 
interesting to the human eye than it does through a movie camera. 
The elephant that had seemed thirty feet away when shooting the 
picture, appears to be a hundred yards away when the film is pro- 
jected. The obvious solution seemed to be to build a hide in a likely 
spot and wait there until the animals obligingly walked past But 
our hide was always in the wrong place and no animal ever seemed 
to come within one hundred and fifty yards of us. 

So die next stage was to fix our Akeley camera on to one of the 
trucks and try following the game. This proved scarcely more 
satisfactory. The camera would vibrate too much while we were 
moving to allow us to film, and by the time we stopped and were 
prepared to shoot, the animals would have disappeared again. 

This happened several times with the hippos of the Rutshuru 
River. In theory they should have been the easiest animals in the 
world to film since there were said to be six thousand of them in 
six miles of river. We would see them every day lying, sunning 
themselves on the sandbanks at the edge of the river and try to film 
them. But it only needed us to approach with our cameras for the 
hippos to break off their siesta and plunge back into the river, and we 
never seemed able to get really close to them without panicking 

Gradually we began to learn from our mistakes. By trial and 
error we learned to know where to expect a particular animal or a 
certain tribe, and we had a great deal of beginner's luck. Altogether 
we spent another fourteen months in Africa after leaving the Albert 
Park, travelling right across to Nairobi and the Indian Ocean before 



retracing our tracks and driving up through Northern Nigeria and 
across the Sahara to Europe again. 

The scenes we shot during this time were so rich and varied that 
with the footage we already had from the Albert Park, I finally had 
enough material to make into a full hour's film for Chrysler and 
also to produce a successful full-length feature film of my own called 
"Dark Rapture." During our travels, I even managed to shoot 
some footage on tin mining for my kindly mining executive. 

I was relieved to find that my sound-recording gear stood up 
to the wear and tear of the tropics for we used it hard. We 
were the first to record authentic sound in the middle of Africa 
on any scale and our recordings included the royal drums of the 
giant Watusi, the stick music of the forest negroes and the large 
percussion orchestras of the Manbetu tribe that often boasted more 
than thirty players. 

The Watusi in particular gave us splendid scenes for our film. 
They were an ancient race, living on the Ruanda plains and were 
one of the mystery peoples of Africa. For these immensely tall 
warriors a Watusi in his prime in those days would be six feet eight 
or nine tall were ethnically totally different from all the surround- 
ing tribes. They were dark skinned but they were a Hamitic race, 
not a negro one, and it has been this that has made some experts 
advance the theory that the Watusi originally migrated to this 
distant corner of Africa from ancient Egypt. Certainly to me their 
art and some of their customs seemed to echo those of the Pharaohs. 
For instance the kings of the Watusi formed a dynasty quite apart 
from their subjects and were compelled by custom to marry their 
sisters just as the Pharaohs had done. 

But while the ceremonial of the Watusi court, and the dances 
of the warriors, provided the sort of shots a film director dreams of, 
the most unusual scenes of all that went into our film "Dark Rap- 
ture" were the ceremonies of circumcision and flagellation that we 
filmed with one of the forest tribes of the Congo. 

These ceremonies occurred once every five or six years and 
were normally among the most secret and jealously guarded of the 
tribe's secrets. Outsiders were rigidly banned from them and if a 
woman of the tribe was rash or careless enough to glimpse any part 


of the circumcision ceremony she would be instantly put to death. 

For the two ceremonies of circumcision and flagellation were 
the supreme male rituals of the tribe; on the night before the cir- 
cumcision was due to begin, the witch doctor would creep round the 
village uttering the most fearful cries in imitation of the male devils 
who were supposed to eat any women or children who ventured 
out of the huts the following day. We were lucky enough to be told 
about the ceremony by a Belgian district officer who was known 
and trusted by the tribe, and it was through him that the chief gave 
me permission to attend and film the whole event. 

The key figure in the circumcision was the witch doctor. At 
dawn he was standing at the appointed place in the forest, in all his 
finery of shells and feathers and skins and as he called, the men of the 
village formed up in procession behind him. First came the chief 
and the elders. Then followed the fathers with their sons who were 
to be the centre of the day's proceedings. I felt particularly sorry for 
these boys. The Belgian official who had witnessed the ceremony 
before, told me that in this tribe they were circumcised between the 
ages of six and eleven and that they were expected to show no sign 
of pain. Their fathers would be with them and if the boys cried out 
or even grimaced, it would reflect serious dishonour on the family. 

But apart from the boys it was clear that everyone was out to 
enjoy himself, and when the procession set off we got some excellent 
scenes of the milling tribesmen dancing and shouting after the witch 
doctor and surging t hrough the forest. This excitement continued 
when they reached the river. The boys were given a drink of some 
herbal brew from a gourd to help deaden the pain and one by one 
they were pushed forward by their anxious fathers to where the 
witch doctor was waiting at the edge of the river. 

I had to admire the stoicism of these small boys, for the knife 
the witch doctor was using looked frighteningly rough and, what- 
ever it was that the gourd contained, the pain for the boys must have 
been extreme. Yet here they were, taken away from their mothers 
for the first time in their lives and standing alone before the men of 
the tribe with the honour of their fathers depending on how they 
behaved. There were fourteen of them. None of them cried. One 
or two did show a flicker of emotion, but some of the boys actually 



managed to summon up a shout of triumph as they climbed out of 
the river. Then the elders would nod approvingly and the father 
beam with pride. 

The flagellation ceremony usually takes place later when the 
men have returned to the village. This is the second of the manhood 
rites this tribe inflicts on its males; this time those involved are not 
the young boys but the older men, circumcised long ago, who 
voluntarily submit to flagellation in order to demonstrate their 
toughness and their contempt of pain before the whole tribe* 

The ordeal was rather a formidable one. One by one the men 
stood in the centre of a circle formed by the whole village, and sub- 
mitted uncomplainingly while they were lashed by members of 
the tribe. The men were naked except for a thin strip of wood they 
held in front to protect their genitals, and the whips, wielded without 
restraint, were saplings, eight or ten feet long, that could inflict a 
murderous slash. The stoicism of these men was remarkable. 
During the flagellation the victim would have to hold a small bell 
and keep ringing it to show that his courage was undefeated and 
that he could take more punishment. While we were filming we 
never once saw a man who failed to ring his bell. 

After fourteen months in the Congo and with scenes like this 
on my film I was beginning to feel that I knew my new trade of 
film-maker. I also thought that I knew something about wild 
animals a most dangerous illusion. For my sort of beginner's 
confidence was exactly the sort that causes accidents, and I count 
myself lucky that I learned my lesson when I did. 

It happened on our way back through the Congo, shortly after 
we filmed the circumcision. I had been on my own filming hippo 
again. By now I had learned the secret of using a portable 35 
millimetre camera which allowed me to stalk to within a few feet 
of the animals and I knew I was getting much more successful 
pictures than on my earlier attempts with these large elusive animals. 

Then suddenly in the very middle of a shot, my camera jammed. 
It could not have happened at a worse moment as the hippos were 
just beginning to suspect my presence and I was getting the action 
1 wanted, as the first of the old males lumbered ofFhis sand-bank and 
into the river. But a jammed camera was useless; if I wanted to do 



any more filming that day I would have to find somewhere suffic- 
iently dark to enable me to open the camera and clear the film 

It was then that I remembered the fisherman's hut. It was about 
a quarter of a mile along the path by the river; an abandoned, 
tumbledown place built of mud and reeds. One of our Africans had 
warned me about it. "Bad place, bwana" he had said. I had asked 
him why, but he had just shaken his head muttering, "bad place, 
bad place for wild animals." 

Warnings like this were all very well, but I was in a hurry. I 
needed somewhere dark where I could work at the camera, and the 
hut was the only place. 

When I reached it I found it was empty. It smelled old and musty 
inside, but it suited my purposes and I was soon at work in the darkest 
corner. To open a camera as I now had to do, without spoiling all 
the film inside, you place it inside a thing called a changing bag. 
This is a large black satin bag rather like an old-fashioned muff. As 
well as having a zipped opening for the camera to go in by, it has 
two heavily elasticated apertures each side for your hands* The idea 
is that when you put your hands inside the bag the elastic grips your 
wrist tightly enough to stop any light entering, and you are able to 
open the camera without exposing the film. 

This was what I did now, and I had nearly finished adjusting 
the camera when I saw a dark shadow cross the door of the hut. I 
was so engrossed in what I was doing that I took no notice, but a 
moment later I realised what the shadow was. It was the head and 
shoulders of a fully grown male lion. 

The African's warning had been all too true and probably this 
particular lion was looking for shade to lie up in and had picked on 
the hut. Luckily he was not on the lookout for a large man with 
a jammed camera and was clearly as surprised to see me as I was to 
see him. 

The hut was very small, and there was no time even to extricate 
my hands from the changing bag. 

In situations of sudden danger like this, I have often found that 
people tend to do the right thing by instinct, and that by acting 
instantaneously they come off far better than if they had had time to 



think. Certainly I had no time to think; I found myself gripping 
the camera as tightly as I could within the changing bag and then 
bringing it down with all my force on the lion's head. 

I shall never know if it dazed him or merely frightened him, but 
he jumped back snarling and bounded away into the bush. From that 
day to this I have always taken good notice of any warnings that 
local people give about wild animals in the district. 


7 Elephants of the Congo 

1 ^HE older I have got, the more interested I have become in 
JL elephants. In a way, they are like Africa itself. You start off 
thinking they are very large and very simple. Then gradually you 
realise that their life is not simple at all, but immensely complicated, 
and that however long you study them, you will never entirely 
understand them. 

During this first visit of mine to the Congo, the elephants were 
still one of the splendours of the country, and were to provide 
many of the most impressive scenes for my film "Dark Rapture." 
To the north, by the Garamba and the Sudan border, there were 
several herds more than a thousand strong. We spent many weeks 
following them and filming them, and the scenes of these great 
herds, moving like some solid grey army on the march, were to 
provide some of the most successful parts of the film. 

But in those days I still had a lot to learn about elephants, and 
my first attempt to study an individual elephant on my own at 
close quarters was nearly my last. 

It happened when I was driving across the Rwindi plain, on the 
lookout for suitable animals for the camera team to film later in the 
day. About half a mile from the road, across some extremely rough 
country, I saw a very big elephant. He was a fine old tusker and he 
was alone. 

Now, it is not a bad rule, if you wish to observe large game 
animals and stay alive, to avoid the old isolated one and stick to 
the herd. This is especially the case with elephants. In old age the 
head of the herd becomes driven out by his successor; he is often the 
one who gets a bad name as a rogue elephant and he is usually 
more aggressive and difficult to deal with than the rest of the herd. 



Of course, I tad heard all this several times, but the sight of this 
great elephant, so close and apparently so peaceful, was too much to 
resist. I had a loaded portable 35 mm. camera with rne, so I stopped 
the car and cheerfully set out after the elephant on foot. Down- 
wind of him ran a fairly substantial range of bushes. I judged that if 
I could once get behind them and then work towards him, I would 
be able to get some really exciting close-ups of the old monster. 

All this seemed to work very well. I got behind one end of the 
bushes without being spotted and worked forward. But by the time 
I had got to the front of the clump and parted the branches, I saw 
that the elephant had come closer as well, and was now less than 
twenty yards away. This was better than I could ever have expected, 
except for one thing. From where I was sitting, there was yet an- 
other small bush directly in my line of vision that kept getting into 
the picture, no matter how I moved. 

Finally, I decided to risk it. The elephant seemed more con- 
cerned with the foliage he was earing than with me, so I stepped out 
into the open, sighted my camera, and prepared to take some of the 
best pictures of my life of a big tusker at close quarters. 

It was the clicking of my camera that did it. As soon as he heard 
the noise, out went his ears, up went his trunk, and I could see him 
feeling the air, listening for the next sound. 

Curiously, the fact that I was so patently visible did not matter. 
To any other animal, I would have been as large as a house, but 
elephants have poor eyesight and at that age rarely notice things 
that stand still. At least, I had the sense not to move while I was 

But trouble began the instant I stopped the camera. It was the 
change of sound that presumably irritated him and told him where 
I was. Determinedly he started moving towards me. I moved away. 
He accelerated and then at last I realised that I was actually in 
danger. This was the beginning of a charge. 

It was then that I started to run in earnest, but to my horror I 
found that I could hardly move, because the ground was so rough, 
whereas this scarcely bothered him at all. He came lumbering on, 
unerringly on my track by now, and there was nothing I could do 
except blunder hopelessly forward clutching my camera, 



Then, incredibly, he stopped and I looked back. He was stand- 
ing on the exact spot where I had been when I filmed him. Ob- 
viously he had got my scent so strongly that he thought I was still 
there. He was going exclusively by scent and hearing, not by sight, 
and soon started pounding the ground there with his great feet and 
charging with his tusks. It was then I noticed what I should have 
seen earlier on: his far tusk was broken half-way off. This is a bad 
sign with an elephant. He may have broken it off in a fight or by 
hitting a tree; if the nerve was exposed, he may have suffered a 
painful abscess. It is always best to give a wide berth to an elephant 
with a broken tusk, as his behaviour is likely to be abnormal and 

The one thing that probably saved my life was his weak eye- 
sight. I managed to cover a good fifty yards before it struck him 
that it was only earth he was pounding, not me. Twice more this 
happened on the way back to the car. Twice more he got my scent 
and started to pound the ground. Thanks to this, I made it, but only 
just. When I reached the car the old elephant was not far behind me, 
and it was lucky the car started first time, for the car was something 
that even he could see. Once I had got going I kept at top speed for 
the next ten miles. 

For me, the most interesting elephants I saw during our journeys 
through the Congo were undoubtedly the elephants of Gangala-na- 
Bodio. They were unique among all the elephants of Africa in that 
they were the only ones trained to work. 

I should explain something of the differences between the Asian 
and the African elephant, for these are not just physical. Anatomic- 
ally, of course, they are very different, and it is a long way back in 
the course of evolution that the two species diverged the African 
elephant with his flat skull and enormous ears, and die Asian with his 
far smaller ears and heavy protuberances on the front of his skull 
But they are every bit as different in temperament. The Asian 
elephant is more peaceable, more reliable, more trainable, whereas 
the African elephant, with the best training in the world, seems to 
remain moody and undependable. I have always been scared of 
African elephants, however well trained they were supposed to be. 


I do not believe in allowing myself to get into a tight corner with 


Asian elephants show almost unbelievable intelligence and com- 
mon seme. Recently, Michaela and I watched them working in the 
teak forests in Vietnam. There the elephants are trained to pull the 
three- and four-ton teak logs out of the mountainous forest area 
where they grow. The country is too rough, and the trees too far 
dispersed for any sort of trucks or tractors to do the work, and we 
marvelled to see the elephants sliding these great baulks of timber 
down the sides of the mountains. 

In theory, the mahouts, perched up behind their ears, told them 
what to do, but as far as we could see, they were normally too 
drugged with opium to know what was going on, and it was the 
elephant who seemed to know when to loosen the chain on his log 
at a difficult point in the journey and get behind die log and push it. 
Nine tenths of the work seemed to be done at the initiative of the 
elephants themselves, even to the extent of calling to another ele- 
phant for help if stuck tight at a particular spot. 

It was presumably this sort of example of what the Asian 
elephant could do that persuaded the Belgians to start trying the 
same. In 1900, King Leopold II sent to India for several mahouts 
and their elephants to be shipped to the Congo. 

This was the start of the Station de Capture et de Dressage des 
Elephants at Gangala-na-Bodio. The Indian elephants soon died 
the diseases in Africa were more malignant than in their native 
land but the mahouts stayed on, and when I was at Gangala I 
recognised the Indian elephant song, which they were using to soothe 
their animals and put them to sleep. But. apart from this, the 
African elephant trainers soon developed methods of their own, 
very different from anything 1 have ever seen in India. 

When we arrived, the place was being run by a remarkable man 
called Commandant Offerman, who was later to become chief 
game warden for the whole of the Congo. He was the last sort of 
man I would ever have expected to find in charge of elephants. By 
training he was a cavalryman in the Belgian army, and he was one 
of those spare, volatile, rather dashing men who always seem to 
look best on horseback. 



He ran this elephant station deep in the middle of nowhere with 
the discipline and precision of a good cavalry barracks. There were 
thirty-five elephants there at the rime; die camp stood on a cliff over- 
looking a river, with the elephant lines laid out exactly like cavalry 
lines behind. Twelve or fourteen of the elephants had been captured 
during the previous year and were still under training; others were 
rented out to neighbouring planters for agricultural work, such as 
pulling ploughs and logs and uprooting trees. 

I had arranged to arrive at Gangala-na-Bodio in time for the 
capture season just as Commandant Offerman and his men were 
setting off to capture fresh wild elephants for training during the 
coming year. It is economically far more sensible to catch elephants 
wild and train them, than to breed them in captivity like horses. It 
is not merely that a female elephant's pregnancy lasts twenty-two 
months, and that she would be practically useless for work for more 
than a year on the occasion of each pregnancy. More important 
than this is the fact that, once her baby is born, the mother elephant 
can think of nothing else, and thereafter, for a period of years again, 
is always dropping whatever she is doing at the moment to go 
trumpeting off in rage or anxiety to discover what has happened to 
her offspring. 

Rather than put up with this sort of thing, Offerman and his 
men would submit to the incredible hazards of their annual elephant 
round-up. The capture party would leave early in the morning. 
There would be thirty or forty men and eight or ten big elephants, 
two or three pairs of which would be yoked to heavy, wooden- 
tyred wagons, similar to those used by "the Boers when they trekked 
up into the Transvaal The wagons would be loaded with heavy 
ropes and chains and supplies for several weeks. 

They would head north across the river and up into the rough 
savannah country where there are still some of the biggest elephant 
herds in Africa. All the time they moved, trackers were out ahead, 
looking for signs of elephants, and once they found a herd of reason- 
able size, the rest would come up as close as they could and set up 
camp for the night. 

I remember going out with Offerman before dawn the morning 
after our herd had been sighted, accompanied by the men who were 


going to make the captures. Each one carried a bundle of heavy 
rope on his back and was dressed in his roughest, oldest clothes. 

They worked down-wind of the elephants; in the dim light 
just before the dawn, I had no idea where the herd could be. From 
time to time I would hear distant trumpeting, although this was 
deceptive in this sort of country. But the men were amazingly 
expert in moving without being seen, and when the foremost of 
them stopped, Offerman took me by the arm and led me forward 
to the edge of a low clump of bushes. There, feeding peacefully, 
was a herd of several hundred elephants the nearest barely fifty 
yards from us. One of Offerman's most experienced men came 
forward with us. He and Offerman stayed to pick out the elephants 
they wanted. Meanwhile, a few yards back, all the men were bind- 
ing sacking and thick canvas puttees around their legs, to protect 
them from the thorns of the bush during the hunt. When Offerman 
joined us again, he issued each man six blank cartridges for his rifle. 

Guns are used only for scaring the elephants, and the noise of the 
blanks is all that the men use to break up a charge. 

When everyone was ready, Offcrman climbed on his horse and, 
like a starter at an old-fashioned horse race, fired his pistol into the 
air. For a moment I was reminded of an infantry attack in wartime. 
From all sides the men rushed towards the elephants, shouting and 
firing off blanks. Immediately the elephants panicked, exactly as 
they were meant to, and the hunt was on. It lasted for hours, and 
was a terrible test of endurance for the men. 

Our cameras were mounted on our four wheel drive truck, 
but even so we had a job to keep up, for stampeding elephants, 
despite their weight, can maintain a remarkable speed across country. 
OfFerman's men, on foot, with their heavy ropes and their rifles, 
managed to do what we could not. With unfailing stamina they 
kept with the herd for more than three hours before the first capture 
was made. 

The way they worked was to run alongside the elephants until 
they saw a gap in the herd. As soon as they found one, they would 
try to slip inside and then, by firing their guns practically into the 
faces of the stampeding elephants, divert enough to split the herd up. 

We saw the men make several attempts at this and fail each 


time. Then one man who, I thought, must surely be killed, managed 
somehow to duck right under the legs of an elephant to fire at the 
one behind. 

This went on time after time. At first some fifty animals were 
split off from the herd. These were narrowed down in their turn 
until twenty remained, and by luck these twenty included three of the 
animals selected for capture. We followed a group of four men who 
had their eye on one heavy young bull. By now the pace was be- 
ginning to slacken a little. I could see now the way they were 
hoping to work, although to me it appeared too far-fetched to be 
even remotely possible. 

The men were carrying a long noose, and the foremost of the men 
was actually trying to slip this over the animal's hind legs as he was 
running. Twice he threw it and failed, while the elephant trum- 
peted and broke off in another direction. Finally they managed it. 

The elephant stopped like an angry battleship- With trunk erect 
and ears out, he tried to charge his pursuers. They were ready for 
him. With the sort of good sense I would have shown several hours 
earlier, the men let go of the rope and ran for it. But they did not 
run far. As soon as the young elephant had trumpeted uselessly 
once more and set off again, with the rope trailing behind him, the 
four men reappeared, grabbed the rope and followed. 

By now their tactics were clearer. The first move was to get the 
rope firmly tied round a tree large enough to take the weight of the 
elephant. This took some time, and a lot of manoeuvring, but in 
the end they managed it, the men keeping well out of range as he 
turned around the tree, lashing out furiously at the men with his 
trunk. Then a man in front started teasing him, to hold his attention, 
while the rest of the hunters laid nooses of rope on the ground, in the 
hope that when he finally charged, the elephant would put his feet 
into them, thus allowing them to tie his front legs as well. 

After several false tries, this succeeded too, and finally at two- 
thirty that afternoon, eight and a half hours after the hunt started, 
we saw the first capture laboriously roped by all four legs between 
two large trees. I felt completely exhausted with the extreme heat 
and with the mere effort of keeping up with the hunt, but the four 
men who had caught the elephant looked almost as fresh as when 



they started. I had with me only some very soft chocolate and 
half-a-gallon of warm water; the least I could do was to share it 
with them, if only to show my admiration for one of the most 
courageous feats I had ever seen. 

Although the elephant trumpeted forlornly from time to time, 
he too seemed grateful that all the effort of the chase was over at 

We all lay around in what shade we could find for about half-an- 
hour. Then Commandant Offerman arrived on his grey horse, still 
immaculate, as if in some eighteenth century parade. I was naturally 
excited by what had happened, but he took remarkably little notice, 
mentioned something about the monitor elephants arriving soon, 
and galloped off again in search of more elephants. 

The monitor elephants turned out to be a pair of the old, trained 
elephants we had brought with us from Gangala-na-Bodio. They 
were gently led, one each side of the newly-captured male. The 
effect was immediate. The old elephants had scarcely touched his 
side before he calmed down. He stopped waving his trunk around 
and trying to uproot the trees he was tied to, and I watched as the 
biggest of the elephants put its trunk on the younger one's shoulder 
as if saying qiuetly, "It's all right. It's going to be all right." 

The men seemed to know what to do without a word of com- 
mand being spoken. The ropes that were round the captive's neck 
were untied and refastened to the neck ropes of the two monitors. 
Then the leg ropes were untied, and slowly, like a newly launched 
ship being manoeuvred into position by a pair of tugs, the newly- 
captured elephant was turned round in the direction of Gangala-na- 
Bodio, and the long march back to camp between the two monitors 

I did not particularly pity this elephant. I had seen far too many 
animals in the wild that were desperately hungry or ill or afraid, to 
share the general view that a captive animal must always be pitied. 
The elephants at Gangala-na-Bodio, once they were trained, led an 
easy life and were physically better off than facing the dangers and 
hardships of the wild. 

At the start of their training, all that could be done was to 
accustom them to the sound and voices of men, to the smell of the 



camp and the smell of the other elephants. The emphasis was on 
patiently establishing a routine. 

I remember how the animal I had seen captured was brought 
by the monitors his first evening in camp, and then tied, fore and 
aft between a pair of large trees. Here he stayed for the night. He 
could stand but he could not really move, and all the time the men 
hung around him, talking and eating their food near him, to get him 
accustomed to people and to the idea that humans do not necessarily 
bring danger. 

All night, of course, he was fed. For, like all elephants, he spent 
most of the night eating, and when I woke in the morning I was just 
in time to see him being led away by his two patient attendants, 
down to the river where he could bathe and throw water over him- 
self and talk to the other elephants. 

In this way he was accustomed to the routine of the carnp, and 
after six weeks Offerman would decide it was time to dispense with 
one of the monitors. A few weeks later, when he was completely 
used to the sights and smell of men, training would begin. 

As far as training goes, elephants are peculiar creatures. Although 
they can ultimately become so reliable, they are probably of all 
animals the most difficult to train. In this they are completely 
different from rhinos, who may be hard to catch, but within 48 
hours of being captured, I have had one taking food from my hand. 
By then he was no longer trying to batter himself to bits and did 
not go through any subsequent period of depression and frustration. 

With elephants it is the exact opposite. For months after 
capture they are depressed, and struggle against the idea of accepting 
human domination, so that the training demands day-long patience 
month after month from their trainers. Unlike the Indian system, 
where a single mahout is assigned to the elephant immediately he is 
captured and stays with him for life, the system here was to train 
the elephant to take orders from anyone and this was more difficult 
to achieve. 

The methods we watched at Gangala-na-Bodio were pains- 
taking in the extreme. We saw the new elephants being taken by 
the monitors and led to their places along the elephant lines where 
their hind legs were tied to heavy stakes in the ground. The front 



legs were tied to long ropes, each rope held by three men. As soon 
as he stopped struggling, the new elephant was given the order 
"Lie down." This would be repeated several times, whilst the men 
pulled hard at the front leg ropes. 

This might go on several hours until tired, exasperated, and 
perhaps just beginning to understand what was expected of him, 
the elephant decided to lie down. 

At once the man would shout "Saba, saba" (good) at him, and 
give him carrots and big sunflowers full of the fat seeds elephants 
love. And so, slowly, laboriously the elephants would begin to 
understand what was required of them. 

Although I admired the patience of Offerman and his men and 
spent several weeks in their camp filming the elephant training in 
detail, I have to admit that I never really trusted their elephants as I 
trusted the elephants in Burma or Ceylon. Riding an Asian elephant 
is one of the stateliest experiences I know. You are so high up that 
you feel you dominate the world. It is slow and assured and as the 
elephant walks it is rather like floating over the jungle in a balloon. 

Riding an African elephant on the other hand I always found an 
extremely nerve-racking affair. I used to travel a lot on the elephants 
at Gangala-na-Bodio; for a while all would be fine, then I would 
see a tree coming towards us with a horizontal branch sticking out 
at just about the height of the elephant's back. I would look at it. 
The elephant would look at it too, and both of us would know 
what was going through the other's mind. 

If he could run just a few paces to the left he would pass directly 
under the branch and I would be swept neatly off his back. This 
was usually the point at which I would jump off, but I did see several 
mahouts, braver men than me, end up hanging on to the elephant's 

For the truth is that despite all the efforts of Gangala-na-Bodio 
I have yet to be convinced that it is possible to make an entirely 
satisfactory job of training an African elephant. 

In areas where elephants are not hunted or pursued, they quickly 
lose much of their fear of man, and humans and elephants learn 
to live peaceably together in surprising intimacy. 



On our last visit to the Albert Park, Michaela and I came upon 
a temporary village being used by thirty or forty road workers and 
their families, and as we drove up I said to Michaela, "This is very 
odd. There are three elephants in this village." 

"Surely," she said, "there couldn't be." 

But there were three fully-grown wild elephants, standing on 
their feet in the midst of the village in the way elephants do when 
they are half asleep, and everything else was going on around them. 
Some children were even playing in the sand less than twenty yards 
away from them, and no one seemed to pay the slightest attention 
to the elephants. 

Then while we watched the elephants woke up and began to 
move. Lazily they lumbered over to a potato patch and started 
digging up potatoes. When the villagers got annoyed and pelted 
them with clods of earth to drive them away, the elephants just 
looked round as if to say, "O.K., we know when we're not wanted," 
and wandered off into the bush. 

I find that sort of thing a bit disappointing. There should always 
be a slight thrill of danger when you approach a herd of elephant, 
and generally there is, but that group were practically house-broken, 
and might possibly have eaten out of our hands if we had given them 
a chance. 

Wild elephants have an instinct and wisdom I have often found 
uncanny. During drought, for instance, the African elephant is the 
only animal with the intelligence and ability to dig for water. We 
watched this although we never managed to film it properly 
during the great drought in Kenya in 1960. Most of the rivers dried 
up completely, although water continued to trickle underground 
through the gravelly bed, often several feet beneath the surface. 

Of course the Africans have always known about this and during 
drought it is their standard practice to dig water-holes in the dried- 
up beds of rivers. But the uncanny thing was that the elephants 
knew this as well, and working partly with their tusks, partly with 
their feet, and partly with their trunks they would burrow up to 
three feet below the surface in their search for water. We would see 
them early in the morning, their feet down in the sand and their 
head and trunk almost buried, waiting for the water to seep in. An 



elephant drinks up to forty gallons at a time and to satisfy a thirst 
like that during a Kenya drought might take several hours. 

As soon as they saw us they would become alarmed and move 
away with a reproachful look in their eye. But if we stayed down- 
wind of them they would soon be back, tormented by their thirst. 
Once we stayed in hiding near one of their water-holes all day. 
When the elephants had gone they were followed by animal after 
animal from rhinos and gazelles down to mongooses, lizards and 
snakes. Unquestionably during the drought the elephants and the 
water-holes they dug saved the lives of untold numbers of other 

Any number of legends have grown up around wild elephants 
but there was one above all which I had never believed until 1950 
when I had positive proof of its truth. This was the legend of the 
wounded comrade; of the elephants risking their own lives to come 
to the help of a wounded companion, to try to put him on his feet 
and head him away to safety. 

I had come back to Africa in 1950 with Michaela as technical 
adviser to Metro Goldwyn Mayer in the making of their film 
"King Solomon's Mines," while Michaela was to double for 
Deborah Kerr in the scenes involving dangerous animals. The usual 
army of Hollywood camera men and technicians descended on 
East Africa and I then discovered to my extreme annoyance that 
the script called for the shooting of a fully grown charging male 
elephant. It was exactly the sort of film scene that I disapprove of 
most strongly but my opinions carried little weight againt MGM's 
and the killing was arranged. 

There was nothing I could do so I kept well away. But I learned 
afterwards that when the old bull was shot, two younger elephants 
out of the herd came forward and tried to lead him away. It must 
have been a very moving, very shaming sight for those film hunters 
with their high velocity rifles. But incredible though it seems, hardly 
anyone at MGM seemed to have realised that here was one authentic 
and quite unique sequence that had never been filmed before. As 
far as I was concerned this one scene would have been worth all the 
rest of the film put together. But I do not know to this day if a print 
of this unique scene was ever preserved. 


8 The Camp of the Pygmies 

THE address was easy to remember "Putnam. Putnam's Camp. 
Epulu" and I had written there twice before I left the States. 
There had been no reply, but I was not too worried about that, for I 
knew something about Pat Putnam and his habits. All I wanted 
was to be sure he knew I was coming to the Congo, for I was going 
to need his assistance, if an important part of my programme was to 

While I was in the Congo I was determined to film the life of the 
pygmies of the Congo Forest and I knew of Putnam as one of the 
greatest experts on them in the world. He was an American 
anthropologist who had built this camp of his at Epulu in the middle 
of the great Ituri rain forest of the eastern Congo, and already he 
had become something of a legend. 

I had never met him, but I knew several people who had, and 
at one time I knew his parents very well. His father was a doctor who 
lived in Bedford Village, near New York in New York State. He 
was a very lively, interesting old man and the last time I saw him 
was at a tremendous party he gave at the age of 82 to announce that 
he was going into hospital the following morning for a prostate 
operation. He was in hospital twenty days and when he left I am 
told it was to marry his nurse. 

Putnam's mother, whom I had known earlier, was even more of 
a character. I had been introduced to her because she shared my 
enthusiasm for monkeys, but I soon found that her concern for them 
went to far greater lengths than mine. In those days she used to keep 
two homes going one for herself and Dr. Putnam, and the other, 
the better of the two, for the monkeys. She employed a man 
specially to look after them, and in the house the central heating was 



kept on the whole year round. She doted on her animals to such an 
extent that one of her chimpanzees completely dominated her. As 1 
knew only too well, you have to be extremely firm with chimp- 
anzees, but she never had the heart to be. This particular animal used 
to refuse to leave her, and there came a time when the only way she 
could get away from it was to have it lightly chloroformed. 

This was the family of the man I had written to and it was 
perhaps inevitable that he should have been something of an 
original himself. He had begun his professional life at Harvard as 
an ordinary student of anthropology, where he was highly thought 
of and was said to have a great future ahead of him. Then one day, 
still in his early twenties, he was chosen to go with an anthro- 
pological expedition to the Congo, and this was the end of his career 
at Harvard. Almost as soon as he arrived he had become as obsessed 
with pygmies as his mother had been with chimpanzees, and when 
the rest of the expedition returned, he decided to stay on in the 
Ituri Forest to write the great definitive work on the anthropology 
of the pygmies of the Congo. 

He had little money at the time, but he was a determined fellow, 
and supported himself in many ingenious ways including working 
as a medical officer for the Belgians. Finally he decided he was not 
getting enough time with his pygmies, so he created this camp of his 
right in the middle of the forest. To provide himself with an income 
he built a hotel there and actually tried encouraging tourists to take 
a vacation in the middle of the Congo Forest. 

Putnam was a persuasive man and a very determined one. 
Somehow he got the Belgians to give him a concession for his hotel 
a most unusual thing in those days and he set about constructing 
Putnam's Camp. It never ceased being constructed. For Pat 
Putnam was a visionary. He thought big, and Putnam's Camp had 
to be worthy of him. Naturally I had heard a lot about all this from 
his parents and before I had left for the Congo I had read several of 
the brochures on his hotel that had been printed for the tourist 
trade. But nothing had quite prepared me for the first sight of Pat 
Putnam himself. 

We had finished filming in the Albert Park, and I had sent him 
a telegram as soon as I arrived at Stanleyville. Two days later the 


Training an elephant like this freshly captured youngster at Gangala-na- 
Bodio was a long painstaking business taking many months 

"I have yet to be convinced that it is possible to make an entirely 
satisjactory job of training an African elephant' 

The end of the hunt for the four tusked elephant of the Ituri Forest the 
Explorers Club in New York with Mr. Pallister, a president of the club 

The pygmies of the Ituri Forest will do almost anything for a ride 

"Everything had to enter Nepal on foot or k carried on the 
.'hacks of porters 9 '- 

"Despite all its romantic associations, I found Katmandu a thoroughly 
dreary, decaying place without a scrap of charm or interest!' Royal 

statue outside a Katmandu temple 

East Indian Rhino. "These huge animals are quite distinct from African Rhino 
andjirst reached Europe in Roman times. They were later used by Durer as 

models for his famous engraving" 


receptionist in the hotel where we were staying rang my room to 
tell me I had a visitor. I came downstairs to find a tall, gaunt man 
with a black beard and hair down to his shoulders. It was Pat 

I took to him immediately. There was a boundless enthusiasm 
about him and I like enthusiasts. He also had immense charm and a 
rich, warm voice that conveyed simplicity and great sincerity. 

"Armand Denis," he said in tones that made what he said sound 
like the will of God himself, "You must come and make a great 
film on my pygmies and on my camp. There is nothing else like 
this in the whole of Africa and I want you to make a film that will 
show the world what we're doing." 

We drove east from Stanleyville and the journey took two days. 
All the time, Putnam was talking about his hotel and his pygmies 
so that by the time I arrived I thought I knew what I was in for. 
But no description could have prepared me for my first sight of 
Putnam's Camp. 

The humidity was intense for this was the very heart of the 
equatorial forest. The trees were six and seven feet in diameter. It 
rained solidly most of the time, and in this moist green twilit world 
the forest had a quite extraordinary resonance. Much as I love 
tropical forest, I am sure that if I had had to stay there long the 
darkness and the shut-in feeling would have driven me quietly mad. 
Putnam had not made things any better by his firm refusal to cut 
down a single tree. 

The camp was just beyond the spot where the road from 
Stanleyville to Irumu crosses the rapids of the Epulu river and the 
huts had been so carefully fitted in between the great trees that 
Putnam's Camp looked as if it had just grown out of part of the 
jungle itself. It was all planned on the most ambitious scale. During 
the journey Putnam had been telling me about his swimming pool, 
his museum and his library and as soon as our truck swung in 
through the gate, he had jumped down from the cab and was 
eagerly waiting to show me round. 

We had been two days on the road and I could have let the 
conducted tour wait, but Putnam with his long hair and his eager 
eyes was not to be cheated of his audience. 



"You must realise that things take time in this part of Africa,** 
he said, "but I feel the important thing is to make a start. There's 
always time to finish things but it's the original plan that matters." 

I soon saw what he meant. The swimming pool had been laid 
out and the diving board was in position, but only a third of the 
actual pool had been dug out of the red soil of the forest. It was the 
same with the museum. Putnam led me proudly towards a long 
shed with an impressive padlock on the door, 

"My collection," he said modestly. 

Inside the light was dim and there was an overpowering smell of 
carrion. A trestle table ran the length of the room and on it lay the 
entire remains of a partly dissected male buffalo. 

"Oh, I'd forgotten about him," said Putnam. " I was trying to 
find out what he died of but your telegram arrived from Stanley- 
ville before I could finish." He started picking up parts of an early 
motor-cycle from where they lay in the comer and placing them 
carefully on the table beside the buffalo. 

"You know the trouble with this part of Africa?" he said. 
"Never any time. Always so much to do." 

He had a tendency to philosophise, but was interrupted by a hand- 
some woman in slacks and a khaki shirt, who burst indignantly into 
the room. 

"Where have you been, Pat?" she said in a sharp Boston accent. 

"To the city, my dear. To the city," replied Putnam with a 
great show of dignity. "I had to meet Mr. Denis." 

"Well, you could have told me," she said. "You've been away 
five days. I was getting worried." 

"Five days," said Putnam looking pained. "As long as that? 
Surely, dear, you must be exaggerating." 

This was Putnam's first wife, Mary. I got to know her well and 
admired her immensely. I think she married Putnam while he was 
still at Harvard. She came from a wealthy and highly respectable 
family who, I suppose, imagined that their daughter had a comfort- 
able future ahead of her as the wife of a distinguished Harvard 
professor of anthropology. 

What she thought when this turned into life among the pygmies 
In the middle of the Ituri Forest I never cared to inquire, but Mary 



Putnam was certainly the only source of whatever order and 
efficiency Putnam's Camp possessed. These unannounced depart- 
ures of Putnam's were quite common. One morning he would de- 
cide he wanted to go to Stanleyville or Irumu or somewhere else, 
and he would go down to the road, wait until a truck came along 
and hitch a lift to wherever he wanted. If he remembered, he would 
ask an African child to run back and tell his wife. If he forgot it was 
just too bad. 

We stayed in Putnam's Camp over a month and enjoyed every 
minute of it. There was always something unexpected happening. 
Putnam seemed to have no real stocks of provisions and when, totally 
unannounced, a party of tourists arrived expecting the sort of amen- 
ities promised so extravagantly in his brochure, he would turn to 
with his cook and improvise something for lunch. 

You would sit down and eat, not quite certain what was in the 
Irish stew, and all the time Mary Putnam would be anxiously 
watching the faces of her guests. Then at the end of the meal Pat 
Putnam would casually ask one of the visitors how she had enjoyed 
the wild-cat, or the lizard, or whatever animal he had decided to rob 
the Putnam zoo of for the benefit of the Putnam kitchen. 

There were animals all over die place. Originally the zoo had 
been part of Putnam's ambitious plans, but it had inevitably got out 
of hand and in various ways overflowed into the hotel. You would 
go into your bedroom and possibly find a baboon already occupying 
your bed; but the real scourge of Putnam's Camp were the chimp- 
anzees. Pat Putnam shared his mother's enthusiasm for them; one, 
called Fataki, seemed always to be exercising his sense of humour at 
the expense of the guests. 

One evening we were all sitting round after dinner when in 
came Fataki, trailing behind him several rolls of film, completely 
unwound. At first everyone thought it was a great joke until the 
owners, a party of tourists from the Middle West, realised that 
these were all the films they had taken over the previous three 

Another time a party of tourists arrived which included a very 
straight-laced elderly New England spinster. She must have left the 
door, or a window, of her bedroom open, for Fataki appeared when 



we were at dinner that night, with a pair of her bloomers solemnly 
draped around his head. 

The pygmies were of course the most fascinating thing of all 
about Putnam's Camp. They trusted Putnam and would trade 
animals and plants with him for cigarettes. Towards evening they 
would come into the camp in twos and threes and I had my first 
chance of getting to know them. 

They were nomads. They had no real possessions and most of 
the time life was hard for them. But everything they got was such a 
delight to them and they were as carefree as birds. 

Putnam had much in common with them and was one of the 
few white people capable of really understanding diem. He spoke 
their language. He lived with them for periods deep in the forest 
and for me he was an unbeatable guide and adviser for my film- 
making. It was through him that I learned of their strange way of 

They Jive in small tribal groups but have no villages of their own. 
Instead, each tribe is virtually owned by an African village on the 
edge of the forest. These villagers are their patrons and defenders 
and it is from them that the pygmies obtain whatever they cannot 
find in the jungle. 

Putnam believed that this arrangement originated with the negro 
invasions which drove the pygmy peoples into the depths of the 
forests. For the negro generally hates the forest. To this day he has 
no real understanding of it and no separate words for individual trees 
or animals. Nor is he generally much of a hunter and his knowledge 
of animals is severely limited, whereas the pygmy is first and fore- 
most a hunter, getting almost all his food from the animals he 

Putnam's theory was that for a period after the pygmies had 
been driven into the forests there was a wholesale war between the 
two races with the pygmies surviving only by their elusiveness and 
adaptability. Then slowly relations between them improved as they 
realised that each race possessed what the other lacked. The pygmies 
had meat. The negroes had salt and vegetables and iron arrow- 
heads; and so they began to trade them and become dependent on 
each other. 



This arrangement works, usually much to the advantage of 
the negroes who always consider themselves by far the superior race 
and look on the pygmy as rather less than a baboon. 

The pygmy on the other hand is not exactly helpless. If his 
village-owners treat him badly he can always say to himself 
"Well, I've had enough of this," and he and his little tribe simply 
disappear, turning up again at another village two hundred miles 
away to ask if they can become this other village's pygmies. The 
negroes guard against this by witchcraft, telling the pygmies that if 
they try to escape or fail to bring in all their meat they will be killed 
by leopards, by falling tress, or simply by evil spirits. Belief in witch- 
craft is so strong that this invariably works. The pygmy in turn can 
of course retaliate by coming noiselessly to the negro villages at 
night and killing anyone he wants with his tiny poisoned arrows. 

The result of all this is that in effect both races have their deter- 
rents and live in constant distrust and fear of each other. There is 
one particularly unfortunate feature of this association between the 
two races: the negro is always on the lookout for fresh wives and 
not too particular where or how he gets them. To the villagers, 
wives are important as chattels, producers of children and general 
beasts of burden. Now many of the negro women are barren, de- 
spite the efforts of many suitors to prove them otherwise, and a 
barren woman is no use as a wife. Pygmy women on the other hand 
are hardly ever barren and as a result are always in danger of being 
taken as wives by the negro villagers. The offspring of negro father 
and pygmy mother is held to be negro, and never returns to the 
pygmy tribe, while the contempt of the negro for the pygmy is 
such that it would be unthinkable for a pygmy man to acquire a 
negro wife. 

Because of this the numbers of pygmies are decreasing steadily 
and most of their tribes contain considerably more men than 
women, whilst the villagers as the result of increasing admixture of 
pygmy blood, are showing signs of rapid physical deterioration. 

The dependence of the pygmies on their villagers always struck 
me as slightly pathetic. Despite the way they were treated they were 
always so anxious to ape the negroes, often adopting their customs 
and tribal markings and even taking local tribal names for their 



children so that in a Mohammedan district, you would even find 
pygmies called Youssuf or Mohammed or Hassan. 

Curiously, the only people the pygmies were not interested in 
imitating were the white races. Perhaps this was because the white 
people were the only ones who made any serious attempt to inter- 
fere with their freedom. One thing I really admired in the pygmies 
was their completely successful resistance to every attempt the 
Belgian government made to settle and educate them. Certainly 
the government tried hard enough but never really succeeded. 

Maybe it was unenlightened of me, but I just could not see the 
point of trying to educate and settle a people like these who enjoyed 
freedom and a perfectly viable way of life in the forest. If they ever 
did settle the most they could hope for was to become a depressed 
peasantry with a low standard of living, prey to the worst features 
of European civilisation, and dominated by the more powerful and 
intelligent African races around them. 

Perhaps the pygmies realised this in their way, for they proved 
as slippery as eels. Just when you think you have got hold of them 
they slip through your hands and disappear. Of course there were 
enthusiastic Europeans who, misled by the friendliness of the 
pygmies, thought they would succeed in stabilising them and organ- 
ising their life on approved conventional lines. 

I knew well a worthy Belgian missionary priest, not far from 
Putnam's Camp, who had been working among them for a long 
time. He was a great success among them because he could play the 
accordion and one evening when Pat Putnam and I visited the mission 
we saw the strange sight of this young bearded priest sitting in the 
middle of the forest surrounded by forty or fifty spellbound pygmies 
as he played them the latest dance tunes from Paris. 

It was this priest who was one of the keenest advocates of 
settling the pygmies. It was he who arranged to build them a 
village, to furnish their huts and to cut an area of forest to give them 
fields to plant. He was a capable man and his planning was thorough. 
Every male pygmy in the settlement was given farming tools, in- 
cluding a shovel, a hoe and a wheelbarrow, and the pygmies were 

They had never had anything like this before, and had the time 



of their lives. They took it in turns to wheel each other around in the 
wheelbarrows. They ran in and out of each other's houses, shouting 
with delight. They slammed the doors, they jumped in and out of the 
windows, they sat on the roofs, they lit fires in the grates and dug 
holes all over the place with their shovels. Every evening the young 
priest would play his accordion and on Sunday they obediently went 
to Mass. 

This went on for a week and everyone was happy. Then one 
night every pygmy in the place decamped and went back to the 
forest again. 

I am sure that Pat Putnam was successful with the pygmies for 
the very reason that he never tried to interfere with their way of 
life. I asked him once about the book he was supposed to be writing 
about them. He looked slightly evasive. 

"Oh, it's coming on/ 3 he said. "But it's not a thing you can 
hurry. A race like the pygmies takes years to get to know properly. 
I'm only at the beginning." 

As far as I know, the book never was finished but Pat Putnam 
was an indefatigable collector of information and would use this as 
an excuse to his wife whenever he felt like disappearing for a week 
or two into the forest with his pygmies. We went off together several 
times into the forest when the pygmies went on their hunting ex- 

This was not an experience I would ever recommend to anyone 
who depends on the normal comforts of life. For the pygmies were 
tough, even the women and the youngest of them. They would 
follow the game on foot for days on end, padding tirelessly on 
through the forest, and never seeming to stop to rest or eat. 

In the evening they would stop in a clearing; the women 
would make rough shelters for the night by prodding sticks into the 
ground, bending them beehive-fashion, and thatching them swiftly 
with the large shiny leaves from the forest One of these huts would 
take perhaps twenty minutes to build, and although they may have 
been all right for pygmies, I found them decidedly cramped as they 
had a diameter of scarcely five feet and could have been no more 
than three feet high. 

Putnam seemed perfectly happy in his hut, curling himself up 



without a blanket and snoring hard the whole night through. But I 
found it almost impossible to get any sleep at all and profoundly 
envied the pygmies their ability to doze off at a moment's notice 
wherever they are. 

The other great drawback to hunting with the pygmies con- 
cerns the way they eat. If they are very hungry and kill anything 
they gorge themselves on raw meat and fat. I have seen a pygmy 
who scarcely came up to my chest consume five or six pounds of 
meat hacked from the body of a freshly speared antelope, go to sleep 
quite comfortably, and be ready next morning to travel across an- 
other twenty or thirty miles of forest. 

On the other hand if they fail to kill anything they seem per- 
fectly resigned to go for three or four days without eating a thing, 
while I seemed to be ravenous most of the time, even though 
Putnam had seen to it that I carried a rucksack full of food. I remem- 
ber one occasion when we had been without food for two or three 
days and I had been keeping myself going on bars of chocolate. I 
had been rationing myself to a couple a day and was practically down 
to my last bar, so I went off on my own to eat it. Two or three 
pygmy children spotted me and came running over to see what I 
was up to, so I gave them each a piece of chocolate to try. 

Although they were inquisitive as all pygmy children are, they 
were also slightly hesitant. They smelled the chocolate. They ran 
their fingers over it. They put a tentative tooth to it. 

"Come on," I said, "eat it It tastes good." And I showed 
them how I was eating it and enjoying it. This encouraged them to 
take a bite. Each one, without exception, pulled a face of the utmost 
disgust as soon as he tasted it and could not wait to spit it out. For 
some while they went on spitting to get rid of what was obviously a 
horrible taste to them. 

An hour later we were on the move again and I noticed the 
pygmies around me sniffing the air eagerly. This went on for some 
time, the pygmies all the while getting more and more excited 
until they started running through the forest and we all came to a 
clearing. This was where the smell was coming from. Lying there 
in an advanced stage of putrefaction, was the body of a cow buffalo 
that had probably died of old age. The stink was indescribable, 



worse by far than the smell of the dead buffalo in Pat Putnam's 
museum, and the pygmies revelled in it. They attacked the body as 
ants swarm on the body of a tasty insect. Right in the centre of the 
free-for-all and eating away for all they were worth were the three 
children who earlier on had spat out my chocolate with such horror. 

With this buffalo the pygmies followed their usual practice. 
They ate a lot of it raw, and then the women cut up what was left. 
Some of it was scorched over the fire, to make it tender enough for 
the old men who had no teeth. The rest was smoked and kept as 
supplies for the future. 

It was on one of these hunting expeditions with Pat Putnam 
that we learned of one of the most extraordinary of all the feats of the 
pygmy hunter the killing of an elephant. It was extremely cruel 
and must have caused the elephant untold suffering before he died. 
But it called for such courage and stamina on the part of the hunter 
that I could not honestly find it in my heart to condemn it. For once 
the risks the hunter ran were far greater than those of his quarry, and 
for the pygmy hunting was not a sport. It was the only way he 
knew to feed himself and his children. 

By no means all the pygmy tribes hunt elephants. The majority 
of them prefer to leave them strictly alone, but Pat Putnam knew 
of one group who did hunt them and towards the end of my stay 
he took me to visit them. Unlike most tribal hunting this is not a 
communal activity. It is strictly a one-man affair. In the elephant- 
hunting tribes there are usually two or at the most three men who 
specialise in it. These are men of great prestige in the tribe and have 
to be of outstanding daring and ability. 

For their work they use a heavy spear with an unusually broad 
blade and thick shaft, and start preparing themselves for a hunt 
several days before it is due to start. First the hunter works on his 
spear, polishing it and sharpening it until the whole of the big blade 
gleams and is keen as a razor. Then he strips completely and getting 
as close to a herd of elephants as he can, rolls himself in fresh elephant 
dung until covered with it from head to toe. For two or three days 
he lives like this, trailing the herd, constantly renewing the dung 
until the smell of man is entirely eliminated and replaced by the 
smell of elephant. 



Early in the hunt the hunter chooses the elephant he hopes to 
kill. This is usually a good-sized young animal on the edge of the 
herd and the hunter trails it and watches it until he knows its habits 
and its entire personality. And all the time he waits for the oppor- 
tunity he needs. 

If he is in luck, this usually comes around midday when the 
elephants become sleepy and start to doze on their feet. It is then that 
he starts to creep towards the herd. This approach is agonisingly 
slow and the hunter moves with the silence of all the forest people. 
For the last few yards the man is like a snake on the ground and like 
a snake he slides right between the legs of the dozing elephant. 

Even when an elephant is half asleep its sense of hearing is 
extraordinarily acute and from now on the crack of a twig or the 
nearest rustle of a leaf will bring the hunter instant death. But he 
must be under the belly for this is the one part of an elephant where 
the body is soft enough for a spear to reach to any depth, and he 
knows that if he tried to throw the spear from any distance he would 
have little chance of causing a mortal wound. 

Instead he lifts his spear and cautiously stands up. He braces 
himself with his feet firmly apart. And then with all his strength he 
thrusts upwards with his spear driving it home with all his force 
before the elephant leaps, roaring with the pain. Often the 
hunter is caught and trampled to death. But if he is skilful, he knows 
the exact moment to withdraw his spear and dodge away from the 
great feet. 

For the man and the elephant this is not the end of the hunt but 
only the beginning. At this stage the wound is not mortal. The 
torment of the elephant will not let up until its death and this will 
take several days. Until peritonitis develops far enough to sap its 
strength the animal keeps running, and as long as it runs the hunter 
must follow, trailing him night and day by the undergrowth it has 
trampled as it passed. 

For the hunter there is neither food nor sleep, and it is only by 
the trail of blood that he can tell that the animal he pursues is still 
losing strength. On the third day or possibly the fourth the elephant 
begins to slow down and the hunter gains on him at last. He knows 
by now that the beast is doomed and when the elephant finally 



drags to a halt and drops to its knees for the last time, the pygmy is 
there, waiting. 

Just before it dies the man comes up to it. He watches it carefully 
to make sure that its strength has really gone, and then with the 
razor sharp spear that made the original wound, he cuts off the 
animal's tail as proof of his victory. Then he leaves. He has to get 
back to his people to tell them he has killed his elephant and to lead 
them back to the carcase. This could easily be another four or five 
days' journey through the forest, and to find his way he has to follow 
the trail of the elephant back to the spot where he first speared him. 

Exhausted, weak with starvation he reaches the camp. " I've 
killed an elephant. I've killed an elephant," he shouts, brandishing 
the tail as proof, and the entire tribe leaves its huts and its few pos- 
sessions and follows him back to his elephant. They may have to 
carry the hunter now, for he would be too tired to travel fast enough 
for the rest of the tribe and they would want to reach the dead ele- 
phant before the predators of the forest had taken too much. Even 
so, the elephant would probably be ten days dead by the time they 
reached it. 

But hungry though the tribe may be the pygmies do not cut up 
the carcase at once. The opening of an elephant has to be performed 
according to a ritual that never varies. First the chief, helped by the 
hunters, climbs up the side of the elephant and when he is on top of 
the grossly swollen carcase he begins carefully cutting a flap in the 
skin two feet square. This is pulled back. Then the chief himself 
cuts thin slivers of meat from inside the elephant and presents them 
first to the hunter who has killed the elephant and then in strict 
order of precedence to his favourites. The chief puts the meat in his 
mouth and passes it from his own mouth to that of the hunter 
who chews it and then swallows it ceremoniously. The same thing 
happens with the next of the favourites and the next and the next. 

All the time, as the chief 's knife slices deeper into the body of 
the elephant the old man feels with his thumb for the last membrane 
separating the stomach of die elephant from the flesh around it. 
During the time the animal has lain dead the gases inside have built 
up a great pressure and if the knife slipped the carcase would burst 
like a pricked balloon. 



This must not happen; the custom of the pygmies prescribes 
that this last membrane must be bitten through by the youngest 
male child in the tribe. I would have thought this a terrifying ordeal 
for a young boy, but he shows no sign of fear. He must have been 
told the pygmy belief that when the elephant explodes into his face 
the courage and strength of the bravest and most powerful animal 
in the forest passes into him. The boy I saw doing this appeared eager 
for his grisly task. 

It took him a few minutes to chew through the tough membrane, 
but as he did, the elephant burst with the noise of an exploding boiler 
and the child was thrown to the ground. 

Then there was a free-for-all. Ritual and ceremony were for- 
gotten as the whole tribe descended on the carcase. Even the children 
had their knives and within half an hour the bones had been picked 
clean and the animal which the hunter had taken such pains to kill 
was nothing but a large puddle in the clearing, in which the children 
were fishing for titbits* 


9 The Four- Tusked Elephant 

IT was while we were still at Putnam's Camp in the middle of the 
Ituri Forest that I first heard about the elephant with four tusks. 
Pat Putnam mentioned it himself one evening at dinner. Five or 
six tourists had arrived that afternoon, and Putnam was in the sort 
of mood when you could not be sure whether he was serious or not. 
The party included a Texas millionaire, a big blustering man who 
refused to be impressed by anything he saw, and he had obviously 
annoyed Putnam. It was not so much what he said as the way he said 
it and when he started talking about the animals he had shot on a 
recent safari to East Africa Putnam interrupted him. 

"You'd better not speak too loudly like that round here," he 
said, fingering his beard in the way he usually did when someone 
had upset him. 

"Why not?" said the Texan. 

"The elephant king might hear," said Putnam. 

"The what?" said the Texan. 

"The elephant king," repeated Putnam. "He's very powerful 
round here. He knows what goes on in the forest and he doesn't care 
much for hunters." 

"What the hell d'you mean?" said the Texan. "Who is this 
elephant king of yours?" 

"Oh," said Putnam in a bored voice. "He's ,an old bull elephant 
and the pygmies say he's their leader. He's very wild and very 
strong and he's supposed to know when there's any danger to the 
animals in the forest. You may not believe this but all the pygmies 
round here do. By the way, he's got four tusks." 

Of course, that started it. "Four tusks," bellowed the Texan. 


"You'll be telling me next you've a unicorn hidden away in this 
forest of yours." 

"Perhaps I have/' said Putnam, still stroking his beard. * 'Per- 
haps I have." 

"But four tusks," said the Texan. "There's no such animal." 

Putnam smiled and refused to be drawn. He had probably got 
the effect he wanted and left the table soon after with all our questions 
about the four-tusked elephant unanswered. 

I did not see him again until late the following day. He had been 
away in the forest. I found him on the edge of the camp talking to 
four or five pygmies and when he saw me, he waved me over. The 
pygmies were not of our own little tribe. They came from much 
deeper in the forest, but as usual Putnam was at home with them, 
squatting on the ground just as they did and laughing and joking 
with them in their own tongue. I knew just enough of this to join 
in and we sat for a while chatting about the animals they hunted. 
They talked about the tiny forest antelope they caught in their long 
nets. The talked about the leopards that they sometimes killed with 
their arrows and finally they talked about elephants. 

"But what about this four-tusked elephant you're supposed to 
have seen," I said. "D'you ever see him?" 

At once there was silence. Putnam looked across at me as if I 
ought to have had more sense than to ask a question like that, but in 
the end one of the pygmies, older than the rest, answered me. 

"We have seen him many times," he said. "He's very fierce 
and very wicked. He sees things the other elephants don't see. 
Many times in the forest he has come and spoiled our hunt. He has 
killed many of our people, and now we keep well away from him. 
We cannot kill with our spears an elephant with four tusks." 

At this they started laughing in an embarrassed way, all except 
Putnam, and I did not know whether to believe them or not. 

When I asked Putnam about it later the same evening he was 
still strangely non-committal. 

"Don't ask me," he said. "You heard what the old chap said/* 

"But you've never seen the four-tusked elephant yourself?" 

"No, but that doesn't prove much either way. There are many 
things in the forest I've never seen. All I know is that every pygmy 



in this part of the Ituri Forest believes that he exists. I also know 
they're scared stiff of him, and pygmies don't scare easily." 

From then on all I could think of was the four-tusked elephant 
Twice I dreamed about him at night and I decided that whatever the 
cost, whatever the risk, I was going to find him and film him. In my 
mind's eye I could see the excitement the film would cause if I could 
get it back to America. But when I asked Putnam to help he would 
not have anything to do with it. 

"Take my advice," he said. "Leave it alone. The pygmies know 
what they're up to. I don't know the reason but there's something 
unhealthy about the whole business." 

Well, I was young in those days and saw no reason for letting 
Putnam put me off something I had set my heart on. Whenever I 
saw the pygmies I asked them about the elephant and from several 
more of them who claimed to have seen him, I gradually pieced 
together a mass of legends about this mysterious animal. According 
to these, he was not only supposed to be the leader of the elephants, 
but was said to talk to them in a human voice, warning them when 
the hunters were approaching and killing more men than any 
animal they or their fathers or their fathers' fathers had ever known. 

"But where is he now?" I would ask them. 

"In the forest," they would reply, shaking their heads. " Many 
days' journey," and always I noticed they would point to the east. 

It was from these talks I had with the pygmies that I finally 
formed some theory about where the elephant must be. All the 
indications pointed to one particular place, a low-lying area of 
swamp, eighty or ninety miles from Putnam's Camp. 

None of the pygmies seemed particularly keen on accompanying 
me to such an ill-omened spot but in the end I found three young 
men, more daring than the rest, who agreed to come as my guides in 
return for almost all the tobacco I possessed. 

I told Putnam I was going, but he said nothing and I set off 
hardly knowing whether to feel brave or foolish. 

We travelled three and a half days, keeping up the gruelling 
pace the pygmies maintain in die forest. We lived on fruit, con- 
densed milk, berries and chocolate, and at night, slept under rough 
shelters of leaves. By die fourth day I had had enough and 1 was 



grateful when I saw the trees beginning to thin out and felt the 
ground becoming wet underfoot. There was much fresh elephant 
dung around. 

We stopped beside a narrow stream. The pygmies singalled 
to me to keep quiet and as I waited I could see them in action, work- 
ing skilfully forward, cautiously tracking the enormous footprints 
of an elephant through the bush. 

They went slowly as if anxious to make no mistake, and telling 
from the lie of the grass and the way the ferns had been broken and 
not yet sprung back how recently the animal had passed. 

"Is it he ?" I would ask them, "the one with the four tusks," and 
they would gesture to me to keep quiet as if I should have known 

"We'll see," they would whisper, "well see." 

We kept going nearly six hours more before we found our 
elephant. He was in a clearing with about eight others, mostly 
young animals and they were all placidly eating away completely 
unaware of us, ripping down the branches from the trees and stuffing 
them unconcernedly into thek mouths. 

The elephant we had trailed was there in the middle of them. 
He was a very large, very old bull. I looked at his tusks. There 
were only two. 

The three hunters turned to me and grinned. 

"It's not him," they whispered. "It's not the king. He knew 
you were coming and he has gone." 

As far as I was concerned, that was that. I had wasted a week but 
at least I felt that I had proved to myself that the four-tusked king 
of the Ituri Forest was a myth. Even Pat Putnam looked relieved 
when I returned, and I left Putnam's Camp a few days later to film 
in. other parts of the Congo. 

It was several months before I was back in the pygmy country 
and by then I had nearly forgotten about the elephant with four 
tusks. I was only passing through on some other business and we 
had stopped our trucks for the night at a settlement called Butembo 
on the edge of the forest. 

Putnam's Camp ky a good way to the west and Buternbo 
itself was a sad little place at the back of beyond boasting a single 



lodging house with the grandiose title of the Butembo Hotel It was 
kept by an elderly Belgian and the night I was there I found myself 
sitting alone at a table next to four local Belgian settlers who had 
dropped in for an evening drink. 

The one thing that made me take particular notice of them was 
that they talked Flemish, a language I had been fairly familiar with 
myself as a boy and I remember thinking it strange to be sitting 
there in the middle of Africa listening to these four hefty, rather 
sombre men with their big moustaches speak the language of my 
childhood. For a while they talked of nothing in particular but 
then I began to prick up my ears, for I heard them repeating the 
Flemish word "olifant" time after time. I listened more closely. 

"But he insisted, this elephant had four tusks," said one. 

"Oh, that's an African for you," said another. "If you asked 
them they would tell you that all their elephants have four tusks 
around here" and they all started laughing and one of them called 
for more beer. 

By now I was engrossed in what they were saying, so I went 
over to their table, introduced myself, and asked them what all their 
talk was about a four-tusked elephant. 

"Oh/ 5 said the man I had heard speaking first, "it's nothing 
really. I was just telling my friends here how I was in the office of 
one of the traders down the road this afternoon when in walked an 
African with a couple of pairs of elephant tusks to sell. As you know 
they have a government tax on killing elephants round here, so the 
agent asked the fellow for his tax money on the two elephants he 
must have killed to get the ivory. D'you know what the blighter 

The man paused for effect as I shook my head. 

"He said, *Bwana, I killed no elephants. I found one elephant 
lying dead in the forest and it had the four tusks I am selling you 

now.' " 

As he told the story, his friends saw the funny side of it again 
and once more started laughing. 

"So what happened then?" I asked. 

"What do you think? The agent's a Greek and Greeks aren't 
fools. Besides, what government inspector would take any notice of 


this nonsense about a four-tusked elephant? No, he just deducted 
the tax money for two elephants from the price of the ivory, and 
booted the man out." 

Of course, they might have been right. The African might 
have been trying to swindle the agent. But whether he was or he 
was not, the story naturally revived all my interest in the legends I 
heard the year before from the pygmies at Putnam's Camp and next 
morning, as soon as the trader opened his shutters, I was there to 
ask him about the tusks. 

The settlers had been right about him. Like many of the traders 
in this part of Africa, he was a Greek, a plump genial man called 
Xantos, and he treated the story of the elephant with four tusks as 
almost as big a joke as the men had thought it the night before. 

" But did you buy the ivory?" I asked. 

"Sure I bought the stuff. It wasn't much good but I bought it. 
The four tusks must have come off a pair of really skinny old 
elephants. It was very discoloured ivory and although the tusks 
were eight feet long they were terribly thin. Not much good." 

He grinned and spat on the floor, just to show what he meant. 

"But can I see them ?" I asked. 

"Now there," he said throwing up his hands, "isn't that a 
nuisance. I'm sorry but you can't. Just an hour after I bought them 
the truck called to collect the ivory and take it down to the central 
warehouse at Abba where they sort it out for shipment to Belgium. 
If you want to see the tusks that badly, you can always write to the 

This was maddening, to have the tusks escape me just when I 
thought I was about to solve the whole mystery, and I wondered if 
there was anything else I could find out about them from Xantos 
while I was there. "What about their weight?" I asked, remem- 
bering that he must have weighed them when he paid the African. 

"Oh yes. All about the same I think. Let me see. I've got them 
down in the book." 

He rummaged amid a pile of books and papers that seemed to 
fill his roll-top desk. "Let me see," he said when he had found the 
book and had placed his spectacles laboriously in position. "Yes, I 
was right. The first was twenty-two kilos. So was the second. 



The third was just over twenty-three and tha fourth nearly twenty- 

"They all seem pretty light for tusks eight feet long," I said. 

Before he replied he paused just long enough to look sus- 
piciously at me over the top of his glasses. 

"You seem very interested for such had ivory," he said. "If it's 
just ivory you want I'd have no difficulty getting you very much 
better tusks than those." 

"Well," I said, "ivory's my hobby and you know how hard it 
is to find four old tusks so equally matched as these seem to be." 

"I see," said Xantos non-committally. "It's none of my business 
anyhow. Is there anything else I can do for you over them ?" 

"Yes," I said. "You can give me the name of the African who 
brought them to you in the first place." 

"Now how should I know that?" He spat once again on the 
floor. "I kicked the rogue out as soon as I'd paid him. When 
people try pulling a fast one over me I don't ask them to stay for a 

Luckily Btttembo was the sort of place where everyone knew 
everyone else and after half an hour of discreet inquiries in the village, 
I knew who had sold Xantos the tusks. He was a young man called 
Mombeli. He was not married, and had his hut on the outskirts of 
the village. I found him sitting outside it rather miserably I thought, 
and at first he refused to answer my questions at all about the tusks 
as he obviously thought I had been sent to arrest him. 

I gave him a cigarette, lit it for him, and then put the whole 
packet in his hands. 

"MombeM," 1 said, "I want to know the truth about this four- 
tusked elephant you say you found. Did you really find him, 
Mombeli, or were you just trying to cheat the trading company out 
of their tax money?" 

"No, bwana, I was cheating no one." 

"But you mean to say you really found an elephant with four 
tusks lying dead in the bush ? No one's ever heard of an elephant 
with four tusks, Mombeli." 

"I know, bwana," he said. "I would not have believed it myself, 
but there he was, a great elephant, bigger than I have ever seen. He 



hayi been lying dead many days and lie had the four tusks I brought 
to the agent." He grinned sheepishly as if he realised the im- 
probability of what he was saying. 

"Where did this happen?" I asked and he pointed to the west 
describing a marshy area near a stream that sounded very like the 
place I had gone to the previous year with the pygmies in my 
original search for the elephant. If Mombeli really was telling the 
truth his discovery of the four-tusked elephant would be a fantastic 
coincidence. But stranger things have happened in Africa. 

"Could you find the remains of the elephant again ?" I asked him. 

He shrugged his shoulders. "It is a long way," he said. "It 
might be difficult to find the place." 

"Come over to my truck a minute, Mombeli," I said. He 
followed me without too much enthusiasm, but I opened the back 
and took out the first objects of value I saw an oil lantern and a 
large chrome battery-operated flashlight. I also took the watch off 
my wrist. I knew all three objects were highly coveted among the 
Africans of the Congo. 

"Listen, Mombeli. I want the head of that elephant and I want it 
badly. I have to go north but if you have that head waiting here for 
me when I return I will give you all these things. Do you think 
you will be able to find the head for me now?" 

His face broke into an enraptured smile* "Sure, bwana. Now 
I understand. I find it. I find it all right." 

I returned to my camp still not knowing quite what to think. 
I was certain by now that Mombeli believed what he was telling me, 
but that was not proof that the four-tusked elephant really had 
existed. I would have full and complete proof only if I succeeded in 
getting those tusks that had been sent on to Abba, and in fitting them, 
one by one, into the sockets of the skull they had originally come 
from. Unless I could get both the skull and the tusks, I would be 
wasting my time. 

So the next thing was to write to the warehouse of the trading 
company at Abba describing the tusks in detail, offering a price well 
over their market value for them, and asking that they should be 
sent immediately to me care of the post office at Butembo. After 
this there was nothing to do but wait, and I set off on my journey 



north knowing I had done everything I could to settle the mystery. 

It was nearly four months before we were back again in Butembo. 

I went straight to Mombeli's hut. It was deserted. I asked his 
neighbours where he was, but nobody knew. Someone said they 
thought he had gone off to Stanleyville for a job five or six weeks 
before, but there had been no news from him, and although I 
searched all round his hut just in case he had left the elephant's head 
there, I could find nothing. 

Again I asked his neighbours whether they had seen him carry- 
ing the head into the village, but they said "no," and looked at me 
sympathetically as if afraid I had been having a little too much sun. 

Once again it looked as if the four-tusked elephant was going to 
escape me and keep his mystery after all. I realised then that there 
was one last chance of finding the head. There was a Belgian 
administrator living in Butembo. His name was Renaud and I 
knew him slightly. There was just a possibility that Mombeli, after 
waiting several weeks for my return, had taken the head to him for 
safe keeping. 

Renaud was an administrator of the old school. A large, 
courteous old man, he was also something of a martinet and a 
stickler for the niceties of life. He was not a man to appreciate a 
story about a four-tusked elephant. 

"Did an African called Mombeli leave a large package for me 
while I was away ?" I asked him. 

"No, Mr. Denis," he said sharply. "What were you expecting ?" 

"An important anatomical specimen,*' I said rather pompously. 
"You're sure nobody left anything like that at all?" 

He shook his head. "What sort of specimen?" he said. 

"Nothing important," I replied, trying to hide my disappoint- 
ment. "It was just that an African from the village had promised to 
try and get hold of the skull of a particular elephant for me." 

"An elephant skull, so that's what it was," bellowed old Renaud. 
"I wouldn't have recognised it. Filthy-looking thing it was when 
the boy brought it in. Crawling with worms. Stank the office out. 
Next time you go asking Africans to collect decaying elephants' 
heads for you, I would be obliged if you would ask them to leave 
them in someone else's house." 



I tried to calm him down. " But what happened to it ... 
Monsieur Renaud?" I asked. 

"Happened to it? What the devil d'you think happened to it? 
I told your African friend to get rid of it and pushed him out before 
we all caught something from it." 

Well, that was that. After so much trouble I had lost the proof I 
needed. Unless I had the skull and the tusks actually fitted perfectly 
into place, no one would believe the four-tusked elephant ever had 
existed. The only thing to do now was to go along to the post 
office and collect the tusks that I had asked the warehouse at Abba 
to send me the last time I was in Butembo, but even here I was out 
of luck. Instead of the tusks, there was a letter from one of the trad- 
ing company's clerks. 

"We have identified your tusks," he wrote. "They are in 
bundles Nos. 4632 and 4639. Unfortunately, by the time we re- 
ceived your letter they had already been despatched to our ware- 
house in Belgium. If you wish to pursue the matter further, we 
suggest you contact our head office in Antwerp." 

As things were it hardly seemed worth taking the trouble. The 
skull was lost and so the tusks proved nothing. But as 1 strolled, 
rather despondently, back to my camp I passed Rcnaud's office 
again, and just beyond it, in a mud ditch skirting the road, I caught 
sight of something white. It looked at first like a huge ball of bone 
lying half buried in the mud. I walked over and prodded it with my 
stick. It was bone, and when I began pushing the earth away, I saw 
that at last my luck had turned. It was the skull of a fully grown 

When I thought about it, I realised what had happened. After 
old Renaud had pushed the unfortunate Mombeli out of his house, 
the African had obviously looked around for somewhere to dump 
the head of this elephant that had caused him so much trouble. 
Understandably he had chosen the ditch. 

This changed everything and I felt all my previous excitement 
return. The first thing to do was to make sure of the tusks. This 
was not so difficult as it might have been as my family still lives in 
Antwerp. So 1 rushed back to the post office and sent off a telegram 



to my father, asking him to go to the company's warehouse at once 
and buy for me tusks Nos. 4632 and 4639. 

When that was done, I went back to my camp, threw a shovel 
into the back of one of the trucks and drove back to disinter the 
skull. It was hard work. The skull was even bigger than I had 
thought, and old Renaud had been right about it. The stench was 

But finally, doing my best to hold my breath, I heaved the thing 
out on to the road and looked where the tusks had been. On each 
side of the jaw, one above the other, were two quite separate sockets. 
I was jubilant. All my filming was finished. We were ready to drive 
back to Europe at the end of my first big successful expedition, and 
now to crown it I had proof of the existence of an animal no one 
had thought to exist. 

But I was still far from the end of my troubles. I still had to 
reunite the skull with those tusks and to do this meant carrying the 
skull just as it was, all the way back to Europe with us. It soon 
proved quite the most uncomfortable piece of luggage I have had 
to take anywhere. 

First we tried carrying it wrapped in a tarpaulin and lashed to 
the roof of one of the trucks to spare us the smell but that did not 
work. A low branch swept it off as we drove through the forest in 
French Equatorial Africa, and we had a terrible time trying to rescue 
it from the stream where it had fallen. After this I was not taking 
any risks. Smell or no smell I was not letting it out of my sight No 
one else in the expedition would put up with it so I drove alone in 
the cab with the skull in solitary state behind me. 

Even then there was trouble. One evening just as we had 
pitched camp on the edge of the Sahara before tackling the six day 
drive across the desert, I had left the skull inside the truck with the 
rear doors open to try to let the air circulate a little. I was in my 
teat and just dropping off to sleep when I heard a great noise of 
howling and snarling outside. I peered out, and there in the moon- 
light I made out three hyenas fighting over something large they 
had just dragged from the back of the truck. It was the head, and, 
although we finally drove the hyenas away the bone was badly 
chewed and split in places. Luckily it was only the back of the head. 



The jaw and the sockets were untouched, but I decided that from 
now on I was going to take even greater care of it, and drove the 
rest of the journey across the Sahara and up through Morocco, 
Spain and France with the truck doors locked and the skull securely 
roped to the floor. 

By the time we reached Antwerp I had had enough ; I remember 
driving gratefully along the Avenue Brialmont where my father had 
his house, and thinking to myself that in a few moments now my 
ordeal would be over. 

"We had been away altogether eighteen months and my family's 
welcome was wonderful but after we had greeted each other almost 
my first words to my father were, "YouVe got the tusks I cabled you 

As a judge my father always spoke with careful deliberation. 
"Ah, yes! The tusks," he said. "I received your cable from the 
Congo and I went to the warehouse* They showed me the tusks you 
had cabled about" 

"Did you buy them?" I said. "Did you buy them?" 

"Well, I looked at those tusks and they seemed very poor to me. 
They had far better tusks at the warehouse." 

"Did you buy them?" I said again. "Did you buy them?" 

"Well, I hesitated a long time. I don't know why you could 
have wanted those terrible tusks, and . . ." 

My voice almost failed me, but I said once more, "Did you buy 

"Sure, sure. I bought them. They're quite safe. You mustn't 
get so excited, Armand." 

"But where are they?" I almost shouted. 

"They're in New York, of course." 

"New York?" I said. 

"Yes, New York. Didn't you ask me to send all those specimens 
of yours to the New York Museum of Natural History ? I naturally 
thought you intended me to include the tusks." 

When we sailed for New York a fortnight later, the elephant's 
head, packed in a big airtight crate, was still with us, like some 
grisly and cumbersome talisman. As soon as we docked I telephoned 
the Museum of Natural History to make sure the tusks had arrived 



safely. They had, so, without waiting for anything else I loaded the 
skull into a taxi and drove straight to the Museum. 

When we arrived, Dr. James Clark, one of the directors of the 
Museum, met me. He had the tusks waiting in his office. They were 
exactly as Xantos had described them, old, heavily scarred, with the 
ivory pitted and discoloured. As I looked at them I could not help 
thinking of the first conversations I had had with the pygmies at 
Putnam's Camp and the way they had described the elephant king of 
the Ituri Forest. I wondered how many of their tribe these very 
tusks had accounted for. 

We still had to make sure that these really were the tusks be- 
longing to the skull. So we unwrapped the skull, placed it on the 
floor, and tried fitting the tusks into their original holes. There were 
grooves in the sockets matching slight grooves in the ends of the 
tusks, and the first three tusks slid home perfectly and there could be 
no possible doubt that they belonged. 

But, try as we would we could not fit in die last tusk. Suddenly 
I realised the truth : the fourth tusk, instead of curving outward as 
normal tusks do, curved inwards. The four-tusked elephant had had 
three normally shaped tusks and one that pointed inwards and ac- 
tually rubbed against those opposite. We turned the fourth tusk 
around and it slid into position as neatly as the others. 

Even when the skull and the tusks were assembled, I could still 
hardly believe that I had finally solved the mystery of the elephant 
king of the Ituri Forest and that the long search for the king of the 
elephants who talked and who carried four tusks was over. 


io Destination Lhasa 

FOR me the real difficulties of an expedition always began when 
I was back in civilisation. I enjoyed life on safari because of its 
simplicity. I had only myself to depend on then and never bad to 
think very far beyond the next hazard or the next decision. During 
the eighteen months of the Congo expedition I was probably freer 
from anxiety than I had ever been before in my life. Now all this 
changed abruptly. 

Before I could get away again I had first to sell my film and 
persuade a new set of backers in America to put up the money I 

The Chrysler company were delighted with the hour-long 
gim "Wheels across Africa'* I made them on my journey, and 
promised to back me for another expedition. But their support on 
its own was not enough. So I set off for Hollywood, taking with me 
the rest of the footage I had shot in the Congo, that was later to 
be edited into the film "Dark Rapture." In the end "Dark Rapture" 
was to prove one of the most commercially successful of all my films, 
but this took far more time than I was prepared to give. 

What I wanted was a quick deal with a film company that would 
give me the money I needed and the chance to escape and organise 
a new expedition. But speed seemed to be the one commodity 
Hollywood did not have to offer. 

There was a lot of interest in my film, for these were the days 
before it had become fashionable for major film producers to spend 
several months and several million dollars on location in the middle of 
Africa. Just for a while I was something of a celebrity, and a lot of 
the leading directors and film stars would ask for a special showing 



of my film. But this seemed to be little help in getting me the sort 
of deal I needed and although M.G.M. gave me a contract for my 
film, it was on condition that I stayed on in Hollywood to supervise 
the editing while my material was turned into a feature film. 

In the end I spent eight months there, and if there is one spot on 
earth where I would rather not spend another eight months, it is 
Hollywood. There was something about the place even then that 
seemed to breed inertia and frustration, and although I could have 
joined one of the big film companies and travelled and made films 
for them as an employee, I realised that my independence as a film 
maker was something that was worth preserving at all costs. 

As a result it was over three years after my return from the Congo 
before I was ready to leave America again. This time my plans 
were really ambitious. It had taken me so long to mount this 
expedition that I was determined to go as far and see as much as I 
could. My first stop was to be Rangoon. From Rangoon I was 
going to drive north across Burma to the town of Lashio on the 
Chinese border. At Lashio I planned to take the newly constructed 
Burma Road into China and through to Chungking. From 
Chungking I then intended to travel eastwards to my final destina- 
tion Lhasa, the mountain capital of Tibet. 

On paper my plans were wildly impractical. The Burma Road 
was barely finished, there was a civil war raging in China and there 
was no reliable information at all on the final stage of the journey 
from the Chinese border through Tibet. But I had learned in the 
Congo that what looks impractical on paper is often surprisingly 
possible when you are on the spot and I knew that the higher you set 
your aim, the more chance you have of finally achieving something. 

My guiding principle was to travel as light as possible, for I had 
no idea how long we would be able to keep going by car, especially 
once we started travelling west from Chungking. I wanted us to 
be able to shift everything we had at a moment's notice from the 
trucks on to the backs of mules or horses. If it was really necessary 
we might even have to carry the equipment ourselves. 

On the 4th of April, 1939, 1 sailed from New York to Amsterdam 
on the first leg of my Far Eastern expedition. From Amsterdam I 
picked up a Dakota that flew the seven-thousand-odd miles to Burma 



in just under three and a half days, and I landed at Rangoon to find 
the rest of my expedition waiting for me on the airfield with the 
trucks fuelled up and the film equipment ready for the journey. 

Before we could leave, I felt I must get our Chinese visa, and 
visited the consulate. But although the Chinese officials were 
scrupulously polite, the necessary authorisation from Chungking 
never came. For several days I stayed on in Rangoon, sending cables 
and express letters to everyone I could think of who might be able to 
get us the authorisation we needed. I even cabled direct to Chiang 
himself. ' 

Finally I decided it was pointless to stay on, getting bored in 
Rangoon, when there was the whole of Burma waiting to be filmed, 
so I arranged to keep in touch with the American consulate in Ran- 
goon and set off north. 

Burma was fascinating and the films we shot there were to be 
the salvation of the expedition. They included the elephants of the 
teak forests I have already described and the boatmen of Lake Inle 
who paddle their boats with their feet instead of their hands. But 
the strangest scenes of all concerned the priestess of the snakes. 

I had first come across the cult of the snake when I was in 
Ceylon, and was told die ancient legend of the snake god Naga who 
was vanquished by a woman. At one time the cult had been com- 
mon across the whole of the East, and the story of Eve and the 
serpent is probably a variant on the original legend. It was one of 
those recurrent myths that had always fascinated me, but when I 
inquired further I had always been told that the only place where the 
rites of the snake god were still practised was in some forgotten part 
of central Burma. 

I was reminded strongly of all this on my journey, especially 
when we began to find the remains of several ruined temples with the 
elaborate carvings of the snake god still on the walls. But it was not 
until we reached the dead city of Pagan in northern Burma and saw 
the four ruined temples of Naga that I had any definite evidence that 
the worship of die snake god was still alive. After considerable 
inquiries 1 met an old Bhuddist priest who told me where to go if I 
wished to find die last priestess of this cult. 

His directions led us to a mountainous area two days' journey 



away, and there, in the isolated village the old man had described, 
we found the family that kept alive the cult of the snake. There 
seemed to be no men in the family; there was an old grandmother, 
her daughter a beautiful young woman in her early thirties and 
two grandchildren of twelve and fourteen, both girls. The older 
women were the traditional priestesses of the snake. 

They were quite open about it all and seemed to enjoy great 
prestige in the village, where they were regarded as women of 
considerable sanctity; but at first I did not believe what they told 
me, for they said that the snakes they worshipped were king cobras. 

Now a king cobra is an enormous snake. A large one can 
measure fourteen or fifteen feet long. Its head is as big as a man's 
fist. It is extremely aggressive and treacherous and a dose of poison 
from a fully grown male is enough to kill twenty people. 

But the women insisted that the snakes they worshipped were 
king cobras, and during the evening we spent with them, recounted 
some of the legends about the snake god. They told us how they 
went into the mountains to capture die snake and how the snake 
promised to behave and obey the priestess provided it was released 
at the end of a year at precisely the spot where it was first captured. 

Although I found it hard to believe all this, the women were 
obviously sincere and ended up promising to take us next morning 
to visit the king cobra, the present snake god in his cave in the 

We were at the house of the priestesses early next morning, but 
half the village seemed to be there before us, and the women were 
already up, the old grandmother corning out to greet us and smiling 
politely at us as if we were all going off to a garden party in our 
Sunday best. 

We were given places of honour beside the priestess the 
mother of the two young girls in an ox cart at the head of the pro- 
cession, while the rest of the villagers trailed behind carrying gifts to 
the snake god. A typical village orchestra of gongs and bells brought 
up the rear. The path wound its way up the side of die mountain. 
After about an hour the ox cart could go no further so, following the 
priestesses, we continued the journey on foot. 

We must have walked another two or three miles, when 



suddenly the orchestra stopped and the crowd fell silent. Ahead of us 
lay a bend in the path with a small cave just visible beyond. The 
procession halted. Some time passed while the gifts to the snake I 
noticed rice and salt among the offerings were laid out on the edge 
of the path. 

The priestess of the snake then went on, beckoning me to follow. 
Calmly, gracefully, she walked towards the mouth of the cave, 
then paused. Everyone was waiting and in the silence I heard her 
call softly. For several minutes nothing happened. Then suddenly, 
out of the cave, slid a fourteen foot king cobra. It came swiftly, as 
if it had been expecting her, coiled itself almost at her feet, and 
reared up its head to strike. 

The priestess watched this without the slightest movement. She 
was perhaps four feet away from the snake certainly no more 
and she bowed to the snake once, solemnly inclining her head. 

She must have known by instinct when the snake would strike 
for she moved her knees so as to deflect the blow and the cobra 
buried its fangs into the folds of her skirt. This happened again and 
again, almost as if the girl was dancing with the snake. Her motions 
were unhurried and as graceful as those of a dancer. Each time she 
would move her knees a fraction and each time the snake would 
strike harmlessly at her skirt until the white of the material was 
yellow with venom. 

But now the girl moved forward, closer to the snake; she 
waited until it was quite motionless. Then, slowly she put her hands 
behind her back and leant forward to kiss the snake lightly on the 
top of its head, drawing back just before it struck again. Three 
times she did this, then turned away and began her unhurried walk 
back towards us. For a moment 1 thought the snake might follow 
her and strike from behind. Instead it lowered its head and slid back 
into its cave. 

The girl seemed completely unaffected by what she had been 
through and smiled cheerfully at me as she took her place beside me 
in the bullock cart. We returned to the village as we had come, with 
the procession trailing behind us and the orchestra bringing up the 

We left the village that afternoon. Throughout our journey 



across Burma I had kept in touch with the American consulate in 
Rangoon, but as they had no news for me about the permits needed 
to drive to Chungking, I finally decided to continue into China, 
visa or no visa. To start with this presented no difficulty. The 
border town of Lashio that marked the beginning of die Burma 
Road was in chaos. It was choked with war supplies waiting to be 
driven the seventeen hundred miles to Chiang Kai-Shek and his 
armies in Chungking, and everything seemed to have broken down. 
The monsoon had started, turning Lasliio into a wilderness of mud 
and corrugated iron; left in the middle of it all were great dumps of 
forgotten stores and acres of abandoned lorries. 

The authorities there had other things than us to worry about. 
We would watch convoys of a hundred or two hundred brand new 
lorries arriving on the road from Rangoon. They would be parked 
for the night, and then next morning we would see that half of them 
had had their tyres stolen. They would be left where they 
were and a few hours later fresh lorries would arrive to add to the 

As soon as we saw this, our one ambition was to drive on and 
away from it all; so we left Lasliio less than forty-eight hours after 
we arrived, and took the spectacular Burma Road to the north. The 
landscape was overwhelming a succession of gorges and moun- 
tains, most of them covered with thick forest, with the road like a 
thin ribbon looping its way along the sides of ravines and across 
mountain ranges where no one w r ould ever have thought a road 
could be built. 

The Chinese had built the road before the rains and it must have 
looked very beautiful when they had finished it, with the surface as 
smooth and level as a tennis court. But there was no real foundation 
to it, and with the monsoons, as truck after truck ground its way 
north, the road began to collapse. Mile after mile of the Burma 
Road was simply washing away. 

All this made the journey quite hair-raising. Every ravine we 
crossed would have its litter of smashed trucks lying at the bottom, 
many of them with the bodies of the drivers still inside since there 
was nobody to bother to get them out. The drivers of the endless 
convoys would be worn out with fatigue or drugged with opium 



and quite unfit to drive. But the convoys would grind and skid 
their way forward through the blinding rain the windscreen wipers 
would have been stolen before ever the trucks left the docks in 
Rangoon and often when one truck was forced to stop the one 
behind would crash into it, blocking the road again. 

During these stops we often met the convoy drivers. Few of 
them seemed to care whether they reached Chungking or not, and 
we never had much difficulty buying extra stocks of petrol from 
them for our own trucks. 

For nearly a week I still believed we would get to our destination. 
Then we reached a spot where the road was completely impassable. 
Two entire convoys were jammed ahead of us, and the only place 
where we could camp was in a Chinese cemetery overlooking the 

Four days we stayed there and it rained steadily the whole time. 
The convoys ahead of us showed no sign of moving. The drivers, 
desperate with hunger, started raiding die farms, and the local 
farmers, in retaliation, started attacking the convoys at night with 
pitchforks. Then rumours reached us that bandits were further 
along the road and would attack any crippled truck. 

What finally decided me to turn back was the sight of the first 
refugees straggling back along the road. A woman passed, carrying 
the body of her dead husband and holding a child by the hand. An 
epidemic of cerebral malaria broke out in the villages ahead, and I 
realised that if we did not get out now, and fast, we would stay in 
that cemetery until we were buried in it. 

This was the nearest my Far Eastern expedition ever got to its 
destination. We managed to turn our trucks and however bitter my 
disappointment, I was profoundly relieved when we finally got 
back to the welcoming chaos of Lashio.The expedition I had worked 
four years to achieve had failed, and I had no idea what we were go- 
ing to do next. 

In situations like this, the one thing to avoid is to stand still. So the 
morning we arrived at Lashio I insisted on refuelling our trucks and 
driving as steadily as we could back to Rangoon. Three days later 
we were on board a tramp steamer, headed for Calcutta. I had 



another idea, doomed to failure, that if we could get to Calcutta, we 
might be able to strike north again and to reach Tibet by the back 
door across the Himalayas. 

But as soon as we reached Calcutta we found that the rains were 
worse than ever; the flat lands to the north were so badly flooded 
that there was no question of driving that way for several weeks. 
Worse still, I was told that because of the prevailing political tension 
and the serious threat of war, the northern borders of India had been 

This time there was nothing for it but to stop. Reluctantly I 
booked my whole party in at the Great Eastern Hotel and prepared 
to wait out the rains. There was no point in being miserable. We 
had enough money. It was a good hotel, and there was all the time 
in the world. So I started giving parties. These would begin every 
day after lunch and go on as long as anyone cared to stay. We 
invited anyone who looked interesting, and within a few days our 
parties at the Great Eastern Hotel had become quite a feature of life 
in Calcutta. More and more people turned up. There would be 
high caste Brahmins, and Saddhus clad only in loin-cloths. Local 
politicians came and philosophers and holy men. Journalists arrived 
and lots of pretty girls in saris, and however many gatecrashers there 
were we never really minded as long as the parties went with a 

It was one of these parties that was to save the expedition. For 
one afternoon, when most of us were beginning to feel the effects of 
nearly a fortnight of non-stop party giving, I found myself talking 
to a very beautiful Indian girl. I suppose I was feeling sorry for 
myself and as she was the sort of pretty girl you could tell your 
troubles to, I proceeded to tell her all the difficulties we had 

This went on for some time, and she kept interrupting me, 
saying, "But Mr. Denis, why don't you go to Nepal?" 

For a while I ignored these remarks, for I knew as well as anyone 
that it was impossible to go to Nepal. Nepal was a sort of modern 
Shangri-La. It was inaccessible. It was carefully protected by the 
British Government, and to enter it you needed a special invitation 



from the Maharajah of Nepal, an invitation that I knew was very 
rarely given. 

Finally I said to her, "But don't be ridiculous. It's impossible to 
get to Nepal." 

"Not really/* she replied. "My father is the Maharajah. I think 
it would be easy enough to arrange." 


1 i Nepal 

f"lpHAT was the last party we held at the Great Eastern Hotel. 
JL Without wasting a moment I grabbed the girl by the hand, 
called a taxi, and drove at full speed to the General Post Office where 
we sent a long telegram to the Maharajah of Nepal. The reply 
inviting us to visit him, arrived the next morning. 

Nepal is a mountain kingdom rather larger than Britain, lying 
to the north-east of India and containing within its borders a very 
substantial portion of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. At 
this time, after Tibet, it was probably the most difficult place in the 
world to reach, since there was no road from India and everything 
had to enter on foot or be carried on the backs of porters through a 
succession of mountain passes. 

It was a bizarre journey. Somehow we managed to negotiate 
the floods and get as far north as the town of Patna where we had 
to leave our trucks and load our equipment aboard the tiny train 
that puffed its way twice a week to a town called Raxaul at the foot 
of the Himalayas. From Raxaul the Maharajah had arranged for an 
ancient Buick of his to meet us and jolt us a few miles further on. It 
left us at a village where the track ended. From there we either 
travelled in an open carrying-chair borne by porters or we walked. 
I walked ! 

This journey across the mountains I found agreeably relaxing 
after the nerve-racking splendours of the Burma Road. It took us 
four days of leisurely travel, and each evening we would reach a 
rest-house where a meal would usually be waiting for us. These 
rest-houses were extremely primitive, and at our first stop I was 
surprised to find a large gleaming white enamel bath full of hot 
water waiting for me in my room. This happened again on the 



second night in die second rest-house, and again on the third night 
when I found the identical tub waiting for me in the third rest-house. 

It was then that I realised that every morning, just before we 
left, my magnificent bath was being disconnected, rushed on ahead 
by a special gang of porters, and then installed and filled in the next 
rest-house along the route, to await my arrival 

The skill and staying power of these porters of the Himalayas 
never ceased to astonish us. At one point on the journey we passed a 
large Dodge car being carried across the mountains to Nepal by a 
gang of them. Just after this point we found ourselves picking our 
way over boulders up an almost vertical incline. But a few days later 
we saw this very Dodge car on the streets of Katmandu, so somehow 
or other these porters must have manhandled it up. We saw a 
steamroller in Katmandu, and a huge bronze equestrian statue of the 
reigning Maharajah. They too could only have reached Nepal by 
being carried on men's backs across the mountains. 

Several times we passed individual porters, tough wiry little men 
who could not have weighed much more than 140 Ibs., climbing 
up a steep slope with a basket-work affair on their backs in which sat 
a large Indian lady with a couple of children squatting calmly on 
her lap. 

Just to try out one of the porters we met, I asked him how much 
he would charge to carry me to Katmandu, at that time still two days* 
journey distant. This porter was particularly small and I weighed 
well over 15 stone at the time. Without bothering to look at me he 
said two rupees and motioned me to climb up on his back. In those 
days two rupees were worth about ten shillings, so I paid him in 
advance, climbed aboard the chair, let him carry me about fifty 
yards just to see what it felt like, and then told him I had had 
enough. To this day he is still probably wondering about the mad 
foreigner who gave him two rupees for nothing. 

On the fourth day we had finished the worst part of the journey, 
and reached a village to find that the Maharajah had sent us a horse. 
This was considered a great honour, and I felt I ought to try to live 
up to it. But this was difficult as the horse could barely stand. As 
soon as he felt my weight across his back he would immediately sit 
down. The man who had brought him would then pull the poor 


creature to his feet again, but as soon as he let go, my mount would 
sink to his knees like a rubber horse someone had let the air out of. 

After two or three attempts I felt it would be kindlier and more 
dignified to enter Katmandu on foot and left the horse with a re- 
lieved expression on its face, still lying in the main street of the 
village. In the end, however, we had to pay for the horse. "We also 
paid for the bath-tub, for the guides, and for the ancient Buick. 
"We paid for everything at an extremely unfavourable rate of 
exchange, and the recipient was the Maharajah. 

For when we arrived in Katmandu next day we found that this 
enigmatic gentleman controlled everything in Nepal and made a 
very good thing out of it. Officially of course we were the Maha- 
rajah's guests, but that merely made us more vulnerable. We were 
assigned an old and irascible court official whose visiting card carried 
the printed legend, "Official in charge of Hospitality," and whose 
sole purpose seemed to be to stop us going where we wanted or 
filming what we liked. We would try to film the whole great chain 
of the Himalayas, sometimes visible from Katmandu, but every time 
we climbed to a second story window to shoot our film over the 
roofs of the city, "Old Hospitality" as we called him, would be 
there before us and would officiously inform us that what we plan- 
ned to do was impossible without the Maharajah's permission. 
This seemed to apply to almost everything in Katmandu and I 
realised that the only way we would ever get a chance of any worth- 
while films was to see the Maharajah in person. 

For several days we were unlucky and we became thoroughly 
sick of Katmandu. Despite all its romantic associations, I found it a 
thoroughly dreary, decaying place without a scrap of charm or 
interest in it. But after nearly a week of waiting, "Old Hospitality" 
appeared, looking more bad-tempered than ever, to inform us that 
the Maharajah was graciously pleased to grant our request and would 
see us at two-thirty the following afternoon. 

So the next day, just after lunch, we duly presented ourselves at 
the royal palace in Katmandu in our best khaki suits and our cleanest 
brown shoes, and were escorted in to meet His Highness. The palace 
was quite awful. It was built of a ginger-coloured stone and looked 
like a large piece of overcooked pastry. Everywhere we looked there 



seemed to be ponds and staircases and marble fountains and stained- 
glass windows. After a considerable walk through reception room 
after reception room we finally reached the great state staircase. 
There to my horror I realised that this was not going to be the sort 
of informal interview with the Maharajah I had hoped for. Instead, 
visitors of any sort were presumably so rare in Katmandu in those 
days that our arrival which had automatically doubled the Euro- 
pean population of Nepal was being made an excuse for a complete 
state occasion. 

Solemnly marshalled in order of precedence along the top of the 
staircase and waiting to greet us, was the entire cabinet of Nepal. 
Every minister was there complete with morning coat, wing collar 
and decorations. Each wore a fez, each had small spectacles with old- 
fashioned steel frames and, as we came up the stairs, they all bowed in 

Now, along the wall behind the row of bobbing dignitaries, and 
occupying the full width of the landing, was a complete set of dis- 
torting mirrors. I suppose some earlier maharajah of Nepal had 
seen them on his travels in Europe, fallen in love with them, and 
had them shipped back to Katmandu. But as the ministers bowed so 
gravely before us, I caught sight of their backs in the mirrors, pop- 
ping up and down in grotesque distortion like something in the Fun 
House at Coney Island. 

The Maharajah himself was most cordial. He received us in a 
room crammed with a strange mixture of junk and genuine treasure. 
There was a stuffed racehorse in one comer, whilst a huge German 
clock, in which all the gears were made of glass, stood on one side of 
the room with a cabinet of priceless Ming porcelain on the other. 

We talked polite generalities for a while; I had some difficulty 
in reminding him why we were there. I told him about his daughter 
in Calcutta. "Daughter, daughter," he kept repeating, "which 
daughter? 5 * And although he finally grasped who I was talking 
about, one of the ministers later explained that the Maharajah often 
had this sort of difficulty keeping track of his children; he had over 
forty legitimate sons alone, all full generals in the Nepalese army, 
not to mention the countless colonels and brigadiers that nobody 
mentioned in his presence. 


After a while I managed to explain that if It was possible I 
wanted to shoot scenes of animals in Nepal. At once the Maharajah's 
face lit up. 

"You shoot?" he said. 

I tried to explain that the sort of shooting we did was with 
cameras but he did not seem to understand the distinction I was 
making between this and big game hunting, and led me off to an- 
other room. It was really a hall, some forty feet long, and I realised 
it was die Maharajah's own trophy room. An artist had been brought 
all the way from Paris to cover one whole wall with an immense 
mural depicting, in heroic proportions, the Maharajah hunting 
rhinoceroses in the Himalayas. Along the length of the hall ran a 
series of low marble pillars. There must have been at least twenty 
on each side of the room. On each, expertly mounted, rested the 
stuffed head of a rhino. 

That great room itself with its unspeakable mural was un- 
pleasant enough, but those forty heads sent shudders down my spine. 
For they were the heads of East Indian rhinoceroses and as far as I 
knew there were hardly forty still in existence. 

These huge animals are quite distinct from the African rhino, 
and first reached Europe in Roman times. Albrecht Diirer used 
one as a model for his famous engraving of a rhinoceros. They 
are covered with a set of leathery plates like armour and occur in 
the forest belt below the Himalayas near the border of* India from 

While the Maharajah was talking to me about his hunting, I 
peered at die back of one of these heads and was fascinated to see that 
the plaster at the back of the neck, where the head had been severed, 
had been carefully painted to show every blood vessel and air tube, 
as if the head had been freshly cut off. 

Suddenly this macabre collection seemed to expose the whole 
cult of big game hunting for the gruesome, useless business it is. As 
politely as I could I said to the Maharajah, " You are aware, of 
course, Your Highness, that there are very, very few of these animals 
left and that when you have shot the last of them the whole species 
will then be extinct." 

He took his time to reply and then turned to me and winked. 



"I think you will find," he said, "that there will be just enough 
to last me my lifetime/* 

That was not the only occasion on which we met the Maharajah. 
He seemed to like the idea of being filmed and sent a message to me a 
few days later through "Old Hospitality" saying that if we would 
like to come to the palace with our camera, he would be delighted 
to pose for us. Up to now we had had little enough to film as wild 
life was scarce around Katmandu and we soon got tired of filming 
the holy cows that wandered where they wanted to along the streets 
(one of the few amusing things I found in Katmandu, incidentally, 
was an alms-house for elderly cows, for the cow, of course, could not 
be killed, and the aged but still sacred beasts presented something of 
a problem). 

We sent a message back, thanking the Maharajah, and duly 
presented ourselves once more at the palace die following afternoon. 
This time there was no sign of the courtiers we had met on our first 
visit, and "Old Hospitality" handed us over to a sort of vizier who 
conducted us to the throne room where the Maharajah was waiting 
for us. 

This time he was looking quite splendid, covered in medals, 
orders and gold braid and wearing the uniform of a field-marshal of 
the Nepalese army. We set up the camera, and were just about to 
start filming him when the Maharajah clapped his hands. 

"One moment," he said. "Before you start. You would prefer 
to film me with my crown, I think." 

I had never heard of anyone in a field-marshal's uniform wearing 
a crown before, but I thanked him and said, yes, I thought he would 
look very nice in his crown if he could get it without too much 
trouble. He immediately spoke a few words to the vizier who 
scurried away, returning a few minutes later with a large Huntley 
and Palmers biscuit tin. This was placed carefully on the floor in 
front of the throne, and the Maharajah took off the lid and drew out 
the most elaborate crown I have ever seen. It was covered with 
diamonds, and emeralds as large as grapes. Quite casually the 
Maharajah took off his field-marshal's cap and put the crown in its 



But even then he was clearly not happy with his appearance, and 
started a worried conversation with the vizier. This went on for 
some minutes, and at the end of it the vizier came over to where we 
were standing. 

"The Maharajah wants to know," he said solemnly, "will you 
take his picture with specs or without specs?" 

I looked towards the throne and saw the Maharajah beneath his 
enormous crown blinking owlishly at us through completely round 
gold-rimmed spectacles. 

"Your Royal Highness looks splendid in specs," I said. He 
beamed and we took our film. 

The Maharajah was clearly in an affable mood for when we had 
finished, he put his crown back in the biscuit tin and spent some time 
asking us how our filming was going. I replied that much as we 
liked Katmandu we would be grateful for permission to visit other 
parts of Nepal and in particular to see the dense jungle area of Terai, 
where the survivors of Nepal's rhino and tigers still lived. 

"But of course," he said "that would be easy to arrange. In a 
fortnight's time I will be going on a tiger shoot in the Northern 
Terai. You must bring your camera and come as my guest." 

I could not refuse, but this was the very last thing I ever wanted 
to do for I had already heard quite enough about the Maharajah's 
tiger hunts. He pursued these animals almost as enthusiastically as he 
did the East Indian rhino, from the safety of a howdah on the back of 
an elephant. There might be as many as sixty or seventy elephants 
in his party, and the tiger would be driven until he was totally sur- 
rounded by a wall of elephants. Then the Maharajah would shoot. 
When the day's bag of tigers was complete he would drive back to 
Katmandu in his Rolls Royce, and the stuffed heads of the tigers 
would duly appear beside the rhinos in the Maharajah's trophy 

I had already seen several pictures of the Maharajah at the end of 
a good day's shooting, for Katmandu's official photographer was a 
businesslike Japanese gentleman with a shop just behind the royal 
palace, and his window was full of photographs of the Maharajah, in 
jodhpurs, tweed Norfolk jacket and bowler hat, standing proudly 
over several very dead tigers. The photographs were bad enough. 



The reality would be very much worse, and I was dreading the hunt 
and trying my hardest to think of some way of getting out of it. 

In fact I was given a much better excuse than I wanted. Two days 
before the hunt was due to take place a servant arrived from the 
official British Resident in Katmandu with a message that had just 
been received over the radio. War had broken out between Britain 
and Germany and I was advised to leave Nepal as soon as possible. 
So the following day we went to say good-bye to the Maharajah and 
excused ourselves for not turning up for the tiger hunt. It was then, 
almost as an afterthought, that "Old Hospitality" presented us with 
his Royal Highness's extortionate bill. Everything was on it, from 
the bath-tub that had been carried across the mountains to a special 
fee for the Maharajah's personal appearance, crowned for our film. 
But there was no question of querying it if we wanted to get away 
from Nepal. I paid the Maharajah himself in American dollars. 
That afternoon we started the long walk back through the Himal- 
ayas to India. 

I was now in a serious predicament. As an American citizen 
there was nothing I could do immediately, but as a Belgian by 
birth I hated the idea of being isolated and helpless on the other 
side of the world while my parents in Antwerp were so close to 
the war. But because of this very war we had no idea where 
we could get to next. For several weeks it was impossible to 
get aboard a ship leaving India and when we finally found an 
old freighter sailing from Bombay, she was under sealed orders. 
Not even the captain knew her destination until he was far out of 
port. But by then we hardly cared where we went. 

When we had been at sea two days the captain came to tell 
us what the orders had contained. We were bound for Mombasa. 
At least this was half way home and since I stiD needed a con- 
siderable amount of footage to complete my film, I decided to 
make the most of the legendary game area of East Africa while 
there was still a chance. 


12 Close up of Lions 

HE was a small, dapper man with a neatly pressed linen suit and 
a face the colour of ancient teak. I spotted him the first after- 
noon we arrived sitting in the lounge of our hotel in Mombasa. He 
was puffing at a cheroot and leafing through an old copy of the New 
York Times with the air of a man whose mind is not really on what 
he is reading. 

"Hullo, Al," I said. 

"Hi," he replied, eyeing me carefully over the top of his paper. 

"Business good?" 

"So-so." He puffed non-committally at the cheroot. "So-so." 

"What are you doing in Mombasa then? Vacation?" 

"Well, you could call it a vacation. Because of this goddam war 
every client I had is back in the States by now." 

"How's about a trip with me?" I said. "No shooting of course. 
Just filming." 

"Sounds all right, but depends on die price," he replied, still 
puffing smoke towards me. " If you're interested, I could show you 
the finest game in Africa something you've never seen before and 
will never see again/* 

It was a chance too good to miss and that was how I came to 
engage Al Klein. 

I had known him on and off for years and now, in his middle 
sixties, this unlikely little American had become something of a 
legend. As a very young man he had worked in the Natural 
History Museum in New York but for the last thirty years he had 
lived in Africa as a professional white hunter, accompanying the 
rich visitors to East Africa who had come in search of game. But 
Klein was more than just a hunter. He was a born naturalist and his 



knowledge of animals was prodigious. He was far more interested 
in studying animals than in killing them and for my purpose was the 
best guide I could have wished for. 

It was that afternoon that we fixed our destination. It was a 
place I had heard of many times. It was called the Ngorongoro 
Crater, a huge natural depression twelve miles across on the edge of 
the Serengeti Plains in Tanganyika, and according to Al it was the 
one place above all others in the whole of Africa to see animals in 
the wild. 

Despite its name, Ngorongoro is not really the crater of a 
volcano. I have seen some large craters of extinct volcanoes in 
Hawaii but they could never reach die immense proportions of 
Ngorongoro. Ngorongoro is what the geologists call a caldera, a 
large area of land that millions of years before had been blown up by 
volcanic pressure from beneath and that then collapsed inwards, 
leaving this huge, plate-shaped depression. With its steep sides and 
abundant water it formed a natural sanctuary for wild life of almost 
every kind. It teemed with game. During the dry season great 
herds of zebra, wildebeest, and antelope migrated into the crater in 
search of water. There were rhinos in great numbers and above all 
there were lions in their hundreds and particularly handsome ones 
at that. 

But the most remarkable thing of all about Ngorongoro was 
that in those days it still remained virtually untouched. The roads 
leading to it were bad. Only a few Masai, a nomadic tribe who are 
not hunters and respect game, used the crater, and no tribesmen 
settled there permanently. As for the white hunters, they knew of 
easier places to take their clients to. 

I had already had so many disappointments on this trip that as 
soon as we had settled our destination I was anxious to be off, but Al 
was not a man to be hurried, and we took our time. Of course, some 
safaris in this part of Africa have been absurdly opulent affairs. I 
have known of safaris for rich Americans where a private plane was 
chartered to bring fresh fish from the coast to the safari every day, 
and others where wives on safari with their husbands would say 
good night to their children in the States every evening by radio 



Ours was not a safari on this scale, but Al was a man with definite 
standards and he insisted on driving first to Nairobi where we spent 
several days methodically stocking up for some months in the bush.. 
As I went with him to the stores along Delamere Avenue that had 
specialised in fitting out the big pre-war safaris I could see that Al 
had no intention of roughing it. In India and Burma we had got used 
to sleeping rough and using sleeping-bags that we unrolled beside 
the trucks, but Al insisted on buying proper mattresses for the trip. 
Instead of the coffee essence we had always made do with, he made 
us get a proper coffee mill and several sacks of coffee beans. He also 
bought a small portable refrigerator that ran on paraffin. " Once 
you've got used to having ice with your martini," he said, "it's some- 
thing you just can't do without." 

To Klein we must have been a very different proposition from 
the millionaire clients he had grown used to before the war, but 
during the following 'weeks I spent with him I got just enough of a 
taste of the old safari life to understand something of the luxury and 
comfort the big safari could offer. 

But at that time I was not particularly interested in comfort. I 
wanted to see some animals that we could film and during these days 
of leisurely preparation I was getting more and more impatient. Al 
was a man it was impossible to hurry and even when we had set out 
from Nairobi I remember sitting beside him in the leading truck as 
he drove down the Great Rift Valley at a steady twenty miles an 

We seemed to be taking the journey in such easy stages that by 
the third day I was almost beside myself with impatience and 
decided to complain. Al listened carefully to what I had to say and 
paused to puff once more at his cigar before replying. 

He pointed to the binoculars hanging round his neck. "You see 
those/' he said. " By four o'clock this afternoon you'll be looking 
through them at ten thousand head of big game/' 

"And if we don't?" I said. 

"If we don't^ f U eat the binoculars for you/' 

Klein must have known that his digestion was safe, for just after 
three he slowed down and signalled to the rest of the trucks to stop. 
He jumped down from the cab and I followed him for a few hundred 



yards through the bush. Suddenly the bush ceased. A few yards 
ahead the ground dropped abruptly and below us, stretching as far 
as I could see, lay the great arena of Ngorongoro. Never before or 
since have I seen so many animals in one place. Herd after herd of 
zebra and gazelle, wildebeest and buffalo dotted the immense 
landscape, grazing peacefully in this extraordinary wild life sanc- 

To start with all I wanted to do was to stay where we were and 
watch, but once I had got over the first excitement of Ngorongoro, 
I had to settle the problem of exactly what we were going to film- 
Almost inevitably I decided to begin with lions, for at this time the 
lions of Ngorongoro and the surrounding parts of the Serengeti 
really were unique. Despite their numbers they had very rarely 
been hunted, and unlike the lions I had seen in the Congo and 
West Africa, these had no particular fear of man. Here there was 
a chance of finding a pride of lions of staying with it, filming it, 
and discovering everything we could about the family life of a 
group of lions living freely and naturally in the wild. 

But first we had to find our pride and I soon realised that it was 
going to be difficult to get a family of the size I wanted. We kept 
seeing lions in twos and threes but they were no use and we had to 
spend several days before we were lucky. 

The usual way you spot a pride of lions from a distance is to 
watch for a column of vultures in the sky. Vultures act as a sign- 
post of the wild. Several of these birds circling above one spot 
almost always indicate a kill and where there has been a kill the 
chances are that you will find your lions. 

But on this occasion even the vultures let us down. Once 
they led us to a buck that had been killed by a leopard. Another time 
they were circling above the carcase of an old buffalo that had 
probably died of age and had nearly been devoured already by the 
hyenas and the jackals. For vultures are patient birds. If you aban- 
don a car for a day or two in the bush, die chances are that when you 
come back you will find the vultures circling overhead waiting for it 
to die. 

In the end we gave up watching the vultures and decided to rely 
on the sharp eyes of the African boys who were with us to spot our 



lions for us. The sight of these boys is extraordinarily acute and it 
was on the third afternoon after we reached Ngorongoro that I 
heard one of them whispering "simba, simba" and saw him pointing 
to a spot amid the long grass about a quarter of a mile away. At first 
I could not see what it was that was exciting him. But he kept 
whispering, "minghi, minghi," which means "many, many" and 
at last I did make out the two rounded ears of a young lion sticking 
up above the grass. Then I saw another pair, and another, until I 
realised that I was looking at a pride of twenty-five lions. 

Even in those days this was out of the ordinary. To-day a 
group of this size would be very remarkable indeed. To my 
delight the whole family seemed quite unconcerned about us. We 
were actually able to stay with them and film them day after day, to 
our heart's content, for nearly three weeks. 

My first surprise about this particular pride was that it con- 
tained two fully grown male lions and that far from fighting over 
the females they all behaved quite sensibly and seemed to get along 
quite amicably. I discovered that lions live rather freely. They are 
not monogamous, and they are not particularly dog-in-the-manger 
about their wives. 

On the other hand, all of us were soon struck by the obvious 
affection existing between die different members of the family; 
there was nothing more touching than the sight of the cubs welcom- 
ing back one of the females when she returned from the hunt. 
They would run up to her and rub her face with theirs and lick her 
and make no end of a fuss. 

We soon saw that on these occasions, the least demonstrative 
members of the family were the two big males. It was as if they felt 
any show of affection to be below their dignity. They would pre- 
tend to behave like a couple of touchy old martinets, and I am quite 
sure that their cantankerous behaviour was strictly deliberate. 

Much as I admire lions, and I do admire them tremendously, I 
have to admit that the male lion possesses nothing like the qualities of 
the female. He is selfish. He is usually very much on his dignity. 
And he is incurably lazy. 

The one rime when the male lion's personality really changes is 
when he falls in love. This happens rather more often than is 



usually imagined and when it does the wretched animal can become 
completely bemused by the female. 

Nothing looks sillier than a lion in love. One of the lions we 
were watching was in love with a very handsome, full-grown 
lioness; he followed her everywhere she went, panting away, his 
mouth wide open, his tongue hanging out, and a most stupid, 
infatuated expression on his face. 

On the other hand, being courted by a lion always seems to bring 
out the liveliest side of a lioness. This particular one thoroughly 
enjoyed all the attention she was getting. She became very skittish, 
rolling over on her back and teasing and tormenting her unhappy 
suitor in the most outrageous way. 

But even she had to mind her manners occasionally: I soon 
noticed that her lion could not bear to be left. If she went so much as 
a hundred yards away, the lion would become jealous and bound 
after her, sometimes even lashing out at her quite hard just to show 
that he would not stand for that kind of behaviour. 

Lions do not even need to be in love to look decidedly silly. 
They loathe heat and feel comfortable only in the early morning and 
late afternoon. During the heat of the day they lie helpless, panting, 
eyes half shut, and looking not at all like the majestic beasts I had 
always pictured to myself. This was a serious handicap to us in our 
film making. It used to get very hot, especially in the afternoon, and 
it was then impossible to get any expression on their faces, other than 
one of suffering and extreme unhappiness. I am sure that if lions had 
their way they would live in far cooler climates than the tropical 
areas where they usually occur, for by nine o'clock in the morning 
our lions would all have scampered for the shade and there they 
would stay until late afternoon with their eyes half shut and their 
tongues hanging out. 

It was only then in the comparative coolness of late afternoon 
that the hunting would start. The routine was almost always the 
same. The males would have nothing at all to do with it. Hunting 
was woman's work and it was extraordinarily interesting to 

One of the lionesses would be left behind as a nurse to look after 
the cubs and the rest of them would trot off together in search of 



usually imagined and when it does the wretched animal can become 
completely bemused by the female. 

Nothing looks sillier than a lion in love. One of the lions we 
were watching was in love with a very handsome, full-grown 
lioness; he followed her everywhere she went, panting away, his 
mouth wide open, his tongue hanging out, and a most stupid, 
infatuated expression on his face. 

On the other hand, being courted by a lion always seems to bring 
out the liveliest side of a lioness. This particular one thoroughly 
enjoyed all the attention she was getting. She became very skittish, 
rolling over on her back and teasing and tormenting her unhappy 
suitor in the most outrageous way. 

But even she had to mind her manners occasionally: I soon 
noticed that her Eon could not bear to be left. If she went so much as 
a hundred yards away, the lion would become jealous and bound 
after her, sometimes even lashing out at her quite hard just to show 
that he would not stand for that kind of behaviour. 

Lions do not even need to be in love to look decidedly silly. 
They loathe heat and feel comfortable only in the early morning and 
late afternoon. During the heat of the day they lie helpless, panting, 
eyes half shut, and looking not at all like the majestic beasts I had 
always pictured to myself. This was a serious handicap to us in our 
film making. It used to get very hot, especially in the afternoon, and 
it was then impossible to get any expression on their faces, other than 
one of suffering and extreme unhappiness. I am sure that if lions had 
their way they would live in. far cooler climates than the tropical 
areas where they usually occur, for by nine o'clock in the morning 
our lions would all have scampered for the shade and there they 
would stay until late afternoon with their eyes half shut and their 
tongues hanging out. 

It was only then in the comparative coolness of late afternoon 
that the hunting would start. The routine was almost always the 
same. The males would have nothing at all to do with it. Hunting 
was woman's work and it was extraordinarily interesting to 

One of the lionesses would be left behind as a nurse to look after 
the cubs and the rest of them would trot off together in search of 


"Much as I admire lions, I have to admit that the male lion possesses nothing like 
the qualities of the female. He is selfish. And he is incurably lazy" 

The male above has a fine mane, but the joung lion below has 

still to grow his 

"All of us were struck by the obvious affection existing between different 
members of our family of lions." A lion and lione'ss and, above, a young cub 

"Ever since my surreptitious visit as a child to the primate house at Antwerp 
Zoo I had been fascinated by chimpanzees" 

Examining a chimpanzee which arrived at the Anthropoid Ape 
Research Foundation in Florida with pneumonia 

Life on the chimpanzee farm in Florida. 

Mugwump and friend (the only surviving photographs have faded) 


" Mugwump m$ a splendid looking animal and knew if 9 


their evening meal. The great mystery I never really settled was 
how the lionesses managed to work together as a team when they 
hunted. Each one knew so exactly what to do that it was almost as 
if they had been in radio contact with each other and it looked just 
as though they had been able to plan the hunt in advance. 

They would pick out a buck or a zebra and plan their approach 
one lioness running far out ahead to head the animal back, the others 
carrying out a flanking movement on each side. Whatever move- 
ment their quarry made they would know instinctively what to 
do, working together as if in one concerted action, although they 
were often completely out of sight of each other in the long 

The only possible explanation is some sort of animal telepathy 
of which the scientists have so far very little understanding. Cheetahs 
show the same phenomenon when they are hunting; and the 
elephants seem to have this particular ability of communication at a 
distance in its most highly developed form. Many times I have 
watched the big herds of elephant in Central Africa eating peacefully 
over several miles of country and seen how one isolated elephant can 
become alarmed and instantly communicate this sense of danger to 
the whole herd. 

Whatever form of telepathy these lionesses used was not as 
complex as this, but it had a deadly efficiency about it all the same 
and I never saw them miss their quarry. Their aim would always 
be to work close enough to the animal to panic it. Then, when 
it had no hope of evading them, one of the lionesses would get 
beside it and knock it down with a swift blow of the paw. The 
other lionesses would all jump on the animal together and the 
actual killing would be surprisingly swift. When lionesses hunt, 
the hunt always ends with a businesslike death. Unlike human 
beings they do not hunt for pleasure. 

During the hunt the cubs would never be far away, and im- 
mediately after the kill the lionesses would start grunting and calling 
to tell the rest of the family that supper was ready. The way they 
used to eat always amused me. It generally followed the same 
pattern: the cubs would be the first to arrive, scampering up to 
their mothers who would already be eating but who would im- 



mediately make room for them. For a few minutes they would all 
be there, munching away contentedly. The males all this time would 
put on a great show of indifference, pretending to ignore what was 
going on. But one could see them smelling the air and watching 
out of the corner of their eyes and all the time growing more and 
more restless until suddenly they would decide that, dignity or no 
dignity, they would have to hurry if they were going to get anything 
to eat that night. Then, with a great roar, they would get up and 
charge, scattering everyone else away from the meal. 

It was always quite a sight to see the females and the cubs 
waiting in a ring at a respectful distance while the two males began 
to eat. They would do this with a great show of importance and 
dignity; any cub who came too close would be cuffed and made to 
mind his manners. 

Meanwliile the females, who after all had done all the work, 
would be getting restless in their turn, and it would be one of them 
usually the current favourite of one of the infatuated lions who 
would at last make a move. Her tactics could be most amusing. 
She would move closer and closer to her lion, her ears back, her 
belly touching the ground. She would come directly behind him, 
creeping, with her head against his hind-quarters so as to keep out of 
danger of too vicious a swipe of his front paws. 

Then she would work her way along the side of his body until 
her nose was tightly in the crook of his shoulder. She knew she was 
safe there and for a while she sniffed at the meat and the lion growled 
back at her. But gradually his growling grew less angry. He had had 
enough to eat and was beginning to feel almost mellow. Then the 
lioness would decide to take a chance. 

With the tip of her teeth she would try to grab at a tiny piece of 
meat. The first time she got a hearty cuff on her paws and drew 
back. But the growling subsided and, eyes tightly shut, ears back 
against her head, she tried once more. This time it would work. She 
would get a mouthful, the lion would let her eat it, and then in no 
time at all, the whole family would move back again to finish off its 

Lions are really kindly, generous creatures, even where food is 
concerned. Several times I have seen a hungry lion turn up at the 



scene of a kill when another pride was in possession. For a while 
the atmosphere is strained. The intruder prowls around trying hard 
not to look interested and the rest of the lions growl threateningly 
enough for some minutes, but it always seems to end up with the 
outsider pushing his way in with the rest and joining the party. 


13 The Pride Departs 

' | ^HE days we spent virtually living with our pride of lions were 
JL exciting in a way I had never quite known before, and even old 
Al Klein who had been concerned with lions most of his adult life 
seemed impressed. I had never felt so totally accepted before by a 
group of large animals living in the wild. 

Each morning the first thing Al and I would do when we had 
rolled out of our tents was to make sure our lions had not moved on 
during the night. But although we thought we had lost them on 
several occasions one of us would always end up spotting a pair of 
those cubs* ears poking up at us over the grass and we would know 
the pride was still there. 

"Can't think what you're so worried about," Al would say then, 
pulling a face and spitting on the ground. "After all, lions are only 
lions. Who cares what happens to them ?" 

But I always noticed that when we set off to film them, Al 
would be careful to get into the first truck and in the afternoons 
when most of us were grateful enough to get some sleep, he would 
lie for hours on end in the long grass watching these animals he made 
such a show of despising. 

He had a feeling for animals that was instinctive and quite un- 
erring. He knew how they would behave, how they would react, 
where they would go, and with these lions he was so completely un- 
afraid that all of us soon became casual to a degree. At night after 
supper we used to sit outside the tent round the table. Sometimes 
we would play cards. Sometimes we would set a couple of bottles of 
beer before Al Klein and let him talk. He had the biggest fund of 
stories about animals 1 have ever heard and we would sit there hour 



after hour listening to his nutmeg-grater voice and the feint hiss of 
the big petrol lamp on the table. 

It was on these nights we used to spot the lions. The lamp was 
so brilliant that it completely blinded you to the surrounding dark- 
ness and at first we would not notice them. Then we would see 
their eyes gleaming out of the darkness like amber torch bulbs and 
if we looked very carefully we could make out the shape of lion after 
lion sitting patiently, silently in a circle round our camp, all listening 
with the utmost politeness to Al Klein's unrepeatable stories. 

At first I used to find this exhilarating. You really felt you were 
back in the Garden of Eden and on a footing of trust and friendship 
with these animals. 

But a little later when you retired to your tent for the night you 
were not quite so sure. For a while it was all right and you remem- 
bered that the petrol lamp was still burning outside. But then, 
when you were sure everyone else was asleep, you caught the noise of 
lions hunting in the distance and this was something very different 
from the way you remembered the lions before. 

It is an unmistakable noise that carries for miles across the bush* 
At first it is a long way off. Then, about forty seconds later, you 
hear it again and it is closer. Another forty seconds and it is closer 
still, and you lie there sweating, certain that the next forty seconds 
will bring the lion right to the edge of this tent where you are lying 

And of course, in a sense, it was ridiculous of us to be taken in 
too much by the apparent amiability of these lions. For accidents do 
happen with wild lions when you are least expecting them; only 
last year a tourist was taken out of his tent one night by a lion in the 
Serengeti Park and mauled so badly that he died within a few hours. 

One must remember that lions, for all their good qualities, are 
really highly unpredictable animals. Several times Michaela and I 
have filmed Hons on foot and provided you know what you are up 
to this is usually all right. But whenever we have to do this, I always 
make sure first that I can get close enough to the lions in our Land 
Rover to be able to get a good look at them all, and I examine each 
one very carefully indeed. 

By now I think I can tell if a lion is dangerous or not. Not that 



there is anything particularly mysterious about it. You hardly have 
to be an expert on dogs to be able to tell which are friendly and which 
are not; it is much the same with lions. Quite often, after I have 
looked some lions over I say to Michaela, "Let's get out of here. I 
don't like the expression on that second lioness's face." 

I do not know exactly what it is about the animal. Perhaps she 
is twitching her tail or putting her ears back or perhaps she just looks 
nervous. But in a life like ours you have to get in the habit of 
making this sort of judgment on the spur of the moment if you 
really hope to last. 

Of course luck comes into it as well. We have been charged by 
animals several times, but the fact that an animal charges you does 
not mean that he is going to go through with the charge. I was 
stupid enough to get charged by a lion on this trip with Klein just 
after we had left Ngorongoro, but although it scared me to death 
the animal did not go through with the charge, but at the last 
minute swerved away and went off growling. Klein told me after- 
wards that nineteen times out of twenty a charging lion fails to 
complete his charge just as mine had. He just wants you out of the 
way and provided you are not unlucky enough to be there on the 
twentieth time, you escape unhurt. 

As a rule the only time an animal is really dangerous is when he 
is cornered or thinks he is. For the rest of the time wild animals 
have really very little interest in. men, and certainly not as food. The 
smell of man does not even seem to make a lion hungry. 

The exception to this of course is the man-eating lion, but man- 
eaters are very rare and there is usually a very definite reason to 
account for them when they do occur. The most common cause of 
man-eating is simply old age. A lion normally hunts its customary 
food as long as it can, but when it becomes too old or arthritic to 
hunt with the pride the wretched animal goes around perpetually 
famished. Soon it begins hanging around the villages. To start with 
it kills a chicken. Then a goat. One fine day it kills a child, and when 
he has discovered how easy a man is to kill, and that man, despite his 
strange smell, is meat after all, he becomes a man-eater. It is as 
simple as that. 

Occasionally epidemics of man-eating occur among carnivorous 



animals in the wild, but again there is usually some reasonable 
explanation for them. The most notorious man-eaters of all, for 
instance, were the man-eaters of Tsavo in East Africa, and their 
history is all too easy to understand. They picked up the habit at the 
beginning of this century when the railway was being built between 
Nairobi and Entebbe. The local Africans were not interested in 
working on the line so the construction company imported Indian 
labourers in their hundreds. In those days the country around 
Tsavo was extremely wild. The Indians were not used to these 
conditions and had no idea how to take care of themselves and the 
death rate from malaria and dysentery was abnormally high. It 
became so high that the Indians gave up burying the corpses and 
simply carried them out of the camp and left them in the open for the 
vultures and the hyenas. 

Lions are often found close to hyenas. One theory is that 
they saw the hyenas gorging on the human corpses and learned 
to relish the unfamiliar meat. Soon the lions turned from dead 
Indians to live ones and the man-eating epidemic became so serious 
that for some time work on the line ceased completely. 

But the lions we were watching at Ngorongoro were safe as far 
as deliberate man-eating was concerned and the only real danger 
from them would have resulted from some misstep on our part. 
Still, accidents happen easily on this sort of trip, so easily that three 
days after we arrived at Ngorongoro we nearly lost two members of 
our party to the very lions we were trying to film. 

It all happened quite suddenly in the early afternoon. By now 
Al was as enthusiastic about filming lions as I was. We had found a 
tall outcrop of rock, which had given me an idea. The plan was to 
plant a carcase at the highest point of the outcrop, entice the lions 
there, and so to get unique scenes of the lions tearing at the carcase 
dramatically outlined against the sky. 

There should have been no difficulty about carrying out this 
plan. Al and I drove with two of our trucks to the foot of the out- 
crop, we climbed the rock on foot, dragging on the end of a chain the 
leg of a zebra which we had stolen from some hyenas earlier 
in the day, and thus laying a trail from the ground to the top of the 
rocks, which the keen-nosed lions would follow with ease. At the 


top of the outcrop we fastened the leg of zebra securely, knotting 
the chain around a stump, so that the Eons could not drag the zebra 
leg out of the field of the camera. 

Back on level ground, we got cameras and reflectors ready in 
one of the trucks and aimed them at the top of the rocks. While we 
installed this equipment, I sent the other truck off to fetch some 
lions. "To fetch some lions" probably sounds odd but again there 
was a perfectly easy way to do this, and one we used almost daily. 

The driver of the truck would scout around until he found a 
fair group of lions. In full sight of the lions but at a safe distance from 
them he would drop the remainder of the zebra carcase, securely tied 
to the truck with a heavy rope; he would then drive back to where 
we were waiting with the cameras, dragging the carcase and thus 
laying a trail of scent from the lions to the trail already laid by us. 
Arriving back well ahead of the lions, he would have plenty of time 
to pick up the zebra carcase, place it again in his truck and take it 
back to camp. The lions would soon arrive, follow the trail to the 
top of the rocks, find the zebra leg, and give us the pictures we 

But things did not happen according to plan. 

Lions were plentiful in the area, and when I sent off the truck 
containing the zebra carcase to fetch some lions, I expected the 
truck to be back in one hour, at most two. Al lit one of his cigars 
and we sat back to wait. After fifteen or twenty minutes Al was 
asleep, his dead cigar between his lips. I was feeling very sleepy 
myself and decided to stretch out in the back of the truck. It was 
then that I heard a faint sound in the distance a car's horn. It was 
repeated insistently and finally I woke Al and told him to listen. 

"My God," he said. "It's an S.O.S. Your truck's in trouble." 
We left the cameras where they were and raced off in the direction 
of the sound. We drove about half a mile through bush and long 
grass before we reached the truck. In front of us lay a stretch of 
marshy ground and there, two hundred yards away, with mud well 
up past its axles rested our truck. The driver and mechanic who had 
come with us out to the rock were sitting bolt upright in the cab 
and outside, stalking backwards and forwards with understandable 
impatience, were eight large lions. 



Obviously the driver had not realised the treacherous character 
of the ground he was crossing, and had become bogged down. 
Then these lions had caught wind of the dead zebra he had in the 
back, and they wanted to get to the meat. What terrified me was 
that one of the windows in the door at the back of the track was 
broken, and that the lions were already attempting to leap at it. 
Awkward as it would be for a lion to get his heavy body through 
the window, it could have been done. There was no partition be- 
tween the back of the truck where the zebra lay and the cab where 
the two men were sitting so if the lions got inside, the lions, the 
dead zebra and the men would find themselves all together. And 
eight lions would make short work of a dead zebra. I could see the 
two men looking anxiously in our direction. How were we to get 
them out? Whatever we did we would have to be quick about it. 

"Shall I try to get back to camp for a gun?" asked Al. "I might 
at least be able to scare them off." 

"The camp's too far," I said. "By the time you got back the 
lions would be inside and there would be nothing you could do with 
a gun then." 

"But hell, what are we going to do ? Sit and watch eight lions 
make a meal off a couple of our own guys in the back of our own 

For a while it looked as if this was just what we would have to do ; 
we both knew that if the lions got inside the track it would be only 
a matter of seconds before the two men were attacked. By this time 
one of the lions had actually got its head and front paws through the 
broken back window. He had hung there for a while, half in and half 
out, and then fallen back; but obviously he would try again, and 
obviously if he tried again he would finally succeed in getting in. 

As far as I could see there was only one thing to do. It was risky 
and there was no certainty it would work. But when I was in 
the Congo five years earlier I had had some experience of driving 
over marshy ground. The secret is to deflate your tyres almost 
completely so that they act as cushions and it is surprising just how 
much weight they will carry. It all depended on how soft this 
ground really was. 

We let the tyres down on our truck and slowly drove out to the 



other car. By this time the lions were so excited by the smell of the 
zebra that they took hardly any notice of us. We were in bottom 
gear and actually had to push our way through them to draw 
alongside the other car. 

Somehow we managed it. I never thought we would, but we 
finally got close enough to be able to open our door and let the two 
men leap across from the truck. Then of course, with the extra load, 
we got stuck. The wheels spun, the engine raced, and we took half 
an hour backing our way out. By the time we made it four of the 
lions were already inside the other truck, and next morning when 
we came back to salvage it I had never seen such a mess in my 

They must have fought over the remains of the zebra actually in 
the truck. There was blood everywhere, bloody paw prints actually 
on the ceiling. The seats had been ripped, the instrument panel 
smashed and in the end the only way we could get the truck clean 
was to tow it into the nearest river and practically submerge it 
while we scrubbed it out with soap and disinfectant. 

The evening after this happened, all of us, even Al Klein himself, 
went off to bed early without waiting for the night's audience of 
lions to arrive around our petrol lamp. 

One of the things I was to learn during the days to come, as we 
went on observing our lions, was that they were by no means as all- 
powerful in the wild as most people think. Of course, the general 
idea that all animals living free are naturally healthy simply is not 
true. Life is at best an uneasy battle between disease and survival for 
almost every animal and I realised that this was true for lions as well. 
All the lions we filmed, even the proud old male with the silvery 
mane, were tormented by flies. I used to lie there watching the lions, 
and feeling sorry for them, plagued as they were by these unrelenting 
insects that attacked their eyes and their noses and the chewed up 
edges of their ears. 

I have carried out many post-mortems on wild lions and other 
wild animals and have always been surprised by the parasites and 
worms you find in their stomachs and intestines and even in their 

Obviously disease keeps the numbers of lions down all the time. 



Also, while there are not many animals that will attack a fully grown 
lion, they tend to be surprisingly accident-prone. 

I have seen a giraffe break a lioness's jaw beyond repair, so that 
she must inevitably have died soon after of starvation. She tried 
leaping on to the animal's back while it was running, but missed her 
hold and slipped back to be caught by the rear hoofs which can strike 
with ferocious power. Al Klein used to claim that he had seen a 
zebra kill a young lioness outright with a well-aimed blow of its 
hoofs. It could certainly have happened, and I have seen several 
zebras with the claw marks of a lion on their backs, proving that, 
even after a lion has struck, it does not have things all its own way. 

For lions live dangerously. A rhino could theoretically kill a 
lion and I am sure it sometimes does. Again, I know an area in the 
Congo where lions and gorillas occur together. I have no doubt 
that from time to time a lion must make a grab at a baby gorilla and 
if the parents came to its aid there would be an unimaginable fight 
between full-grown lion and full-grown gorilla. I am by no means 
sure that the lion would have the advantage. 

In spite of all this, lions, even when completely unmolested as 
they were at Ngorongoro when we were there, never seem to 
increase at the rate that might be expected. With so much game 
around, it would seem that they should almost have been the most 
numerous animals there, and my own theory of why they were not, 
is that lions have a remarkably high incidence of infant mortality. 

At Ngorongoro we saw several examples of how this comes 
about. For one thing, lionesses, although the most affectionate of 
mothers, are also rather vague and often extremely stupid where 
their cubs are concerned. In the particularly large pride which we 
came to call "our" lions it was obvious that the individual lionesses 
half the time were not sure which cubs belonged to them and which 
to someone else and the cubs themselves seemed quite cheerfully to 
suckle first at one lioness and then at another. As a result we would 
often see individual cubs mislaid, especially when the mothers left 
in the evening on their hunting expeditions; and the hyenas that 
are never far from the lions would make short work of a tasty young 
lion cub. 

But although Al and 1 felt anxious on several occasions when 



we saw hyenas following cubs loitering a long way behind their 
mothers, we never actually witnessed any real harm come to them. 
For nearly three weeks we followed this remarkable family and by 
this time I was feeling a respect and admiration for lions that I have 
kept ever since. Their virtues seem so outstanding, and their faults 
are understandable and easy to forgive. 

One night, there was a thunderstorm and the rain kept on all the 
next morning. 

"This'U drive 'em off," said Al. "Lions hate rain and they'll 
scatter for miles to escape it. They'll take to the bills. We'd better 
pack and be ready to move on." 

Of course he was right. We spent most of the afternoon search- 
ing for them but they had disappeared and although we stayed on in 
Ngorongoro and Serengeti and saw many wonderful things I have 
never to this day seen another pride of lions quite like the one we 
called ours in 1940 before the terrible devastation of war reached 
even the wilds of Africa. 


14 A Farm for Chimpanzees 

WHEN I returned from the Serengeti to the United States, I 
found that the threat of war was affecting my life as well 
as millions of others. The world was closing up and I could no 
longer travel as I used to or make the films I wanted. At the same 
time I found that I was missing Africa as I had never missed any- 
where before. I longed for its people, its landscape, its smell, but 
above all I longed for its animals. I knew now that 1 would 
never be really happy unless I could work with them and live 
close to them. 

This was the frame of mind I was in when I heard that a record 
shipment of twenty-five chimpanzees had just arrived at New York 
from Sierra Leone. As soon as I heard, I decided that the time had 
come for me to change my profession once again. 

Ever since my surreptitious visits as a child to the monkey house 
at the Antwerp Zoo, I had been fascinated by chimpanzees. What 
interested me in all the anthropoid apes was their similarity to man. 
When I watched them I got the same pleasure as if I had been 
observing totally uninhibited human beings; I had also been 
greatly impressed by the research work into human mental disease 
and immunology that had already been carried on in the United 
States with chimpanzees. 

At the same time I was afraid that as this research work grew 
the chimpanzees would be bought haphazardly from animal 
dealers and looked after by people who were scientists rather than 
aniniaJ experts. The arrival of these twenty-five chimpanzees gave 
me the idea of starting a really large anthropoid ape research station 
where the animals could be properly looked after and where every 



aspect of their make-up could be studied humanely and under ideal 
conditions. The chimpanzees, of course, would not be used for any 
experiments involving cruelty; there was a whole range of re- 
search involving their behaviour, their psychology, and their resist- 
ance to a large number of human diseases, where they would be in- 
valuable to scientists. 

At the same time I saw no reason why the research station should 
not be made to pay its way by allowing the public in and charging 
for admission. I remember the way that the chimpanzees always 
managed to be the centre of attraction in every zoo and felt sure that 
I could combine a valuable scientific project with a profitable public 

Before the station could become self-supporting I needed backers 
and began campaigning hard for support among the doctors and 
scientists I knew. To this day I am convinced that scientists have still 
a lot to learn from the relative immunity of the chimpanzee and the 
other anthropoid apes to certain diseases like cancer, malaria and 
yellow fever, and I remember one evening discussing my project 
with a group of doctors in Chicago. I mentioned the possible value 
of chimpanzees for cancer research and for some reason this seemed 
to annoy an elderly doctor at the back of the room. 

"You must know that a chimpanzee would be totally useless for 
this sort of research," he said irritably. 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Why, everybody knows that the chimpanzee is immune to 
cancer; so what use is an animal like that for cancer research?" 

"I do not take it as proved," I replied, "that the chimpanzee is 
immune to cancer, but if it really is, wouldn't you like to know 

This sort of argument proved effective. Before long I had enough 
support to buy the whole shipment of chimpanzees outright, along 
with ten acres of land along Federal Highway No. i, a few miles 
north of Miami. 

It was then that my work started in earnest. We had the chim- 
panzees, but we had little else, and all that summer we worked 
desperately, building cages, offices, and enclosures and getting the 
place under way. Before long I discovered that twenty-five chim- 



panzees are infinitely more trouble to look after than twenty-five 
of the most demanding and unpredictable human beings. 

My original plan was to give the chimpanzees as much freedom 
as possible. I soon found though that this was difficult to reconcile 
with my plan to admit the public at a dollar a time and I was never 
really satisfied that it was possible to compromise between the two 

The first problem was not so much to protect the public from 
the chimpanzees as to protect the chimpanzees from the public. To 
do this the only completely effective way was to use cages, but if 
cages are to be at all impressive to look at they have to be big enough 
for several animals, and the chimpanzees simply hated this. It was 
not the cages they objected to. If you can find a pair of chimpanzees 
that get on well together they will be perfectly happy inside a fairly 
smkll cage. But once you put three or more chimpanzees together 
you have trouble. Almost at once one of the animals emerges as a 
tyrant and another becomes a scapegoat for the entire group. As 
long as they are together, the persecution goes on. There are fights. 
The animals tend to sulk and look unhappy, while the weakest one 
becomes too terrified to eat and can actually die of starvation. 

It was because of this that I decided that cages were not entirely 
satisfactory and finally devised a special system of my own for my 
star animals. This consisted of setting a long, sturdy table out in the 
open and giving it to a pair of chimpanzees that I knew got on well 
together. During the day they would wear a collar with a long thin 
chain so attached as to give each the freedom of one half of the table 
enabling them to meet and play together in the middle of the table, 
but only if both desired to do so; and enabling each one to retire to 
his end of the table in complete privacy. The animals very ob- 
viously enjoyed this far more than living in a cage and whenever 
they had an audience would use their chains for an extraordinary 
variety of acrobatic tricks. Any attendant passing by their table 
could stop and let them indulge in a brief hug and cuddle such as 
chimpanzees love. 

That summer as the research station became established, the 
number of my chimpanzees grew, and by the autumn of 1941 I had 
bought over forty of all ages. Coping with this family I soon learned 



more about chimpanzees than I ever picked up about any animal 
living in the wild. 

The first thing I learned is that chimpanzees are by no means 
always the harmless cheerful clowns most people think of when they 
see them having their tea-parties at the zoo. In fact the great majority 
of people have got chimpanzees all wrong. For just as with human 
beings so with chimpanzees I found enormous differences between 
the character of one individual and another. One would have a 
calm, easy-going temperament. Another would always be nervous 
and agitated. Some would be kind and reliable, and some would 
have such vicious tempers that it seemed as if they were always 
having a struggle to control themselves. 

Then on top of this, chimpanzees undergo a profound mental 
and physical change as they reach maturity around die age of seven 
or so. Most of them are cheerful, affectionate and reasonably docile 
until then, but once they approach their full growth chimpanzees 
change into powerful and often extremely dangerous animals. A 
male chimpanzee in his prime can weigh upwards of 160 Ibs. and 
as most of this weight is concentrated in the arms and chest he is more 
powerful than two or three men of the same weight. 

With some of my chimpanzees this strength and uncertain 
temper became quite a problem, especially as the only thing the 
visitors seemed aware of was their outrageous capacity for showing 
off. The biggest exhibitionist I have ever known, humans included, 
was a chimpanzee I owned called Mugwump. I have no idea 
incidentally where he got his name from. His previous owner, a 
rich and idealistic Miami widow had named him Mahatma Gandhi, 
but I never felt this name fitted his riotous personality and quietly 
suppressed it. The name of Mugwump grew mysteriously in its 

Mugwump, or to be precise the ex-Mahatma Gandhi, was about 
three years old when I bought him; he grew into a large and power- 
ful animal, but he was such a good-natured individual that I never 
worried about him as I did with the other large males and 1 thank he 
was easily the best chimpanzee I ever had. Of course he was mis- 
chievous and troublesome and a continual problem, but he was 
resourceful and affectionate as well and knew that 1 would forgive 



him almost anything. This was an advantage he exploited un- 

His greatest vice was vanity. He was a splendid-looking animal 
and biew it. He was tall for a chimpanzee and a wonderful athlete; 
as soon as he had an audience he would also reveal himself as the 
great showman he was. It was then that he would really come to 
life, showing the most remarkable inventiveness and performing 
acrobatic exploits he would never bother to get up to when he was 
on his own. He would swing and jump and do double somersaults 
and when he felt his audience was tiring of them, he would change 
his programme and suddenly put on a really terrifying show of 
strength and ferocity, standing on his hands and pounding his 
table with his feet whilst the hair on his shoulders stood right out 
making liim look as shaggy and powerful as a gorilla. 

Despite this, Mugwump was really a sentimentalist and always 
put on his best show when Katie was with him. Katie was an ex- 
tremely beautiful female chimpanzee I had bought from an eccentric 
Texas oil man who thought she was growing too big to continue 
playing with his children; but she remained a remarkably gentle 
soul and Mugwump discreetly adored her. 

At week-ends we used to keep the pair of them by the entrance to 
the station with a very large and massive table as a stage. The show 
they put on for the passing motorists was the best advertisement we 
could have had. The only trouble with them was that their intel- 
ligence was always getting them into mischief. All chimpanzees are 
accident prone, but Mugwump and Katie seemed to make a special 
profession of it and half my time seemed to be spent getting them 
out of one scrape or another. They would try eating nails or 
they would discover a manhole and disappear down it; or they 
would try winding their thin chains a couple of times around 
their necks before leaping into space just to see what would 

Mugwump's great failing was a passion for visitors' babies. Any 
baby would do. He was such an easy-going animal that some of our 
visitors, unused to his ways and unaware of his strange passion, 
would naively let him peer into the pram. Several times he was able 
to grab somebody's baby and run off with it. That would cause a 



frightful to-do. The parents would come with tears in their eyes 
and start hammering on my office door. 

"One of your monkeys has got our baby/* they would shout. 
"For God's sake bring a gun and shoot him before he kills our baby." 

"It's all right," I would reply as calmly as I could. "It's only 
Mugwump. He just loves babies. As long as you leave him alone it 
will be quite safe, and you'll have it back sooner than you think." 

"But you must bring a gun, just in case/ 1 they would say, and to 
set their minds at rest I would pick up the old empty 45 revolver I 
kept on the top of the safe in case of burglars and follow them out to 
see what Mugwump had got up to. 

It would always be the same. There would be Mugwump 
sitting peacefully on the edge of his table hugging the baby for all 
the world as if he was its mother and someone else had just tried to 
steal it He would always be surprisingly gentle, stroking the baby 
and kissing it and I never really worried much about him on these 
occasions. The only thing I did not like was if he ever tried taking a 
baby up a tree with him. There was always a chance then that he 
might put it in a fork somewhere for safety and forget about it. 

Provided everyone was patient and refrained from making any 
loud and upsetting noise, no crisis developed, and after an hour or so 
Mugwump grew tired of the baby and came and handed it back to 
its parents or to me with an enormous air of relief at being rid of it. 

If baby stealing was Mugwump's great failing, Katie was really 
more of a problem. She loved picking locks. In time she grew into 
such an accomplished escapologist that at night she would have to be 
kept in a sleeping cage of her own with a padlock and chain around 
her neck and another padlock on the door. Even then, on more than 
one occasion, she opened her two padlocks and got out. 

This skill at picking locks is fairly common among chimpanzees 
and as several of die animals learnt the knack, keeping them safe 
became increasingly complicated. They would find or break off a 
piece of wire, bend it, and then, with endless patience set to work 
on the lock until sooner or later they clicked it open and got out. 
Katie was a virtuoso at this sort of thing. The other chimpanzees 
would work away at their lock for a while and then suddenly lose 
their tempers, hurl the wire to the far side of the cage and roll on 



their backs, tearing their hair and screaming with rage. Then the 
next minute they would calm down, pick up their piece of wire, and 
go so patiently to work again that you would never have thought 
this was the same animal as the one whose outburst you had just 

But Katie never seemed to indulge in these rages. Instead she 
would be methodical and businesslike, probing, twisting and trying 
every possible way of holding the wire until the padlock finally 
clicked open. Because of this, we had to be careful never to allow 
anything like a piece of wire or a hairpin near her, whilst she on her 
part would go to extreme lengths of ingenuity to get the raw 
material for her lock-picking. 

One trick she had was suggested to her, I believe, by the method 
we used ourselves to get the sleeping cages cleaned out in the morn- 
ing. We encouraged the chimpanzees to clean them out for them- 
selves, rewarding them with a banana when everything had been 
thrown out. This worked wonderfully well. I simply had to walk 
along the cages in the morning with a bunch of bananas and all the 
chimpanzees would start clearing away like mad, throwing out all 
that didn't belong in the cage. If there was anything at all left I 
would only have to say, "Over there, Fifi. Clean up/ J And Fifi 
would finish cleaning her cage and get her banana. 

I suppose it was this practice of offering bananas in return for 
services rendered which gave Katie the basic idea of exchange and 
barter. She was an extremely intelligent animal and this was the 
sort of thing she could understand. You threw something out of the 
cage and then in return you got something that you wanted. It was 
not long before she put this principle into practice. 

One morning, on my rounds, I saw Katie in the middle of a large 
crowd of visitors all of whom were in fits of laughter. There was 
nothing unusual in this, but when I went over I saw that she was 
holding out towards the crowd die banana I had given her earlier. 
At the same time she was pointing insistently to a piece of wke just 
out of reach in front of her cage. She wanted it and quite logically 
was offering the banana in return. For a while nobody seemed to 
understand, but finally somebody did and pushed the piece of wire 
to her on the end of his umbrella. She grabbed it immediately and 



then in the best female manner turned her back on him and started 
eating the banana. 

As soon as the banana was gone she turned her attention back to 
the wire and padlock; she went about it in so methodical a manner 
that as I continued to watch her, it was as if she had been picking 
locks all her life. She realised that the wire was straight and straight 
wire, as every good chimpanzee knows, is no use for opening locks. 
So she bunched up one end of her chain and held it on the ground, 
put the wire across it, and then used another section of the chain as a 
hammer to beat at it until the wire was bent at the right angle. 
From then on it took her exactly twelve minutes to open the padlock 
on her collar. 

It was from watching Katie that I was finally convinced that the 
usual idea that chimpanzees get their skill through painstaking 
imitation of human actions is quite wrong. It was completely use- 
less trying to teach her a trick by repeating it and repeating it in front 
of her. She would just get bored. I tried once to teach her to put 
some of her possessions away in a small cupboard in her cage. I 
spent the whole afternoon at it, showing her time after time how it 
should be done, but even when I tried rewarding her she was still 
not remotely interested. 

On the other hand, although she was no good as an imitator, 
she seemed to have a highly developed instinct for finding things out 
for herself. I know that the first time I gave her a bowl of water and 
some soap she had never seen anyone using this sort of tiling before 
and had no real idea of washing, yet within half an hour she was 
scrubbing away at her face and washing down her table and chairs 
with almost obsessional care. 

It was the same with Mugwump. I never seemed to be able to 
teach him anything, yet when 1 gave him a hammer, some nails and 
a piece of wood, he soon discovered how to use them. True, he 
insisted at first on placing the nails point upwards on the wood, but 
when the hammer bounced off and hit his thumb he responded in an 
extremely human way and afterwards always used nails the right 
way up. 

Another common misconception about chimpanzees that Katie 
and Mugwump finally dispelled for me was the idea that chimpan- 



zees have some sort of conscious language by which they can com- 
municate with each other. This pair got on so well together that if 
they had had any sort of language they would certainly have used it; 
but although they made a variety of sounds when they were together 
I soon realised that these noises were made quite unconsciously, and 
were not a means of intentional communication. They were simply 
part of the animals' automatic reaction to whatever was occurring. 
As far as I could see the chimpanzee was not even aware that he had 
made any sound at all. 

At the same time these unconscious sounds did differ considerably 
and were quite characteristic. For instance, the noises made by 
Mugwump when he was annoyed were very different from those he 
made when he knew food was coming. Just as I could tell the 
difference so could Katie. Without knowing he was doing it, Mug- 
wump would always make the same excited sound when his keeper 
was coming with food and Katie would instantly pick the informa- 
tion up from him. In this way die sounds the chimpanzees made 
provided, not a language, but an instinctive means of communica- 
tion between them. 

Perhaps the most unusual thing of all about Mugwump and Katie 
was that they seemed to be perfectly happy to remain together. They 
were almost the only pair that did not quarrel, for most of my 
chimpanzees seemed to have a casual and at times even a hostile 
attitude to the opposite sex. 

Naturally we tried breeding chimpanzees but we found this far 
more difficult than one would have imagined. Out of ten females 
four or five would have a deep-seated aversion to the opposite sex 
from the start. With the males this intolerance was even higher. 
Some were dangerous and if placed in a cage with a female would 
attack her instantly. Other males would mate perfectly and then, 
immediately after, become violent and attack the unfortunate 

Then there would be other difficulties. Cases of miscarriage 
were frequent among the females and even once the baby was born 
the mother chimpanzee often made the most haphazard of mothers. 
Sometimes she hardly seemed to biow what to do with her baby, or 
did not have enough milk to feed it, or generally neglected it in the 



most reprehensible manner. Because of all these difficulties I 
decided that chimpanzee breeding was hardly a practical pro- 
position. I calculated that a young chimpanzee that would cost us 
500 dollars to import from West Africa would cost us 3,000 dollars 
to raise ourselves to the same age. 

Despite this there was another pair Magnolia and Gussie who 
made a shining exception to die normal run of chimpanzee family 
life. They lived together. They mated happily and finally Mag- 
nolia performed one of the most outstanding feats of motherhood 
that an anthropoid ape is capable of. She had twins. This was very 
rare only one other instance was known of the birth of chimpan- 
zee twins in captivity and for several days Magnolia looked as if 
she was going to be as devoted a mother as she was a wife. All her 
attention went on her twins. She would pick one up and hold it to 
her breast and make the most desperate fuss of it. But she never 
seemed to understand that she had two babies instead of the usual 
one and while she had one chimpanzee in her arms she would 
pay not the slightest attention to the other one lying on the 

Then suddenly she would hear the poor thing making the most 
pitiful cries as it lay on the concrete floor of her cage, and im- 
mediately she would become the very picture of anxious mother- 

"My God," she would obviously say to herself, "that's my baby 
lying there. What am I thinking of?" And she would drop the 
unfortunate baby she was holding, letting it fall on its head, and 
grasp the other one, anxiously picking it up and fondling it and nurs- 
ing it as eagerly as she had' the first one until she heard that one's 
cries and repeated the process all over again. 

I soon realised that this just could not go on. Gussie was being 
neglected. Magnolia was becoming a nervous wreck, and clearly if 
no action was taken the twins would not survive. Reluctantly I 
decided that for everybody's sake we would have to bring up the 
babies ourselves. 

This was all right in theory. In practice it took us nearly a week 
to take the twins away from her and by then the poor tilings were 
almost dead. For although Magnolia seemed so absent-minded with 



her twins when she was on her own, she guarded them with her life 
when anyone came near. 

First I had a cage specially fitted with sliding doors and special 
compartments, hoping that we could entice Magnolia into one side 
and then slide the door across to catch the twins on the other. But 
this plan was defeated. She seemed to know instinctively what we 
were up to and never once would she let go of one of her babies 
without first putting a foot or hand on the sliding door to stop us 
pushing it across. 

We thought of sleeping powders, but the attempt to feed a 
sleeping pill or sleeping powder to a wary chimpanzee is doomed to 
failure. We would carefully mix the powder with crushed banana, 
hollow out a fresh banana with an apple corer, stuff the medicated 
paste inside, plug up the hole with a bit of the banana core, and 
offer the tempting tit-bit to Magnolia. Without even putting it to 
her mouth she would break the banana in two. With one finger 
she would carefully scrape out every bit of the paste, and then eat 
the banana, with an infuriatingly smug expression on her face. 

We tried every sort of sleeping-draught on her. The doctors 
said that Nembutal was the safest thing to use; to mask the bitter- 
ness of the drug I tried giving it her in grape juice which she loved. 
She refused it. I had the idea of putting quinine in with the grape 
juice to start with, as quinine had exactly the same taste and bitter- 
ness as Nembutal. We would gradually increase the dose of quinine; 
then when she had got used to it we would suddenly shift from 
quinine to Nembutal. 

That was the idea, and to start with it seemed to work. Mag- 
nolia wouldtlrink down her grape juice laced with quinine and show 
every sign of relish, but just as soon as I put the slightest drop of 
Nembutal in it an amount so small that she could not possibly 
have detected it by taste she would know and refuse to drink. This 
puzzled me and I came to the conclusion that she was learning about 
the Nembutal from her attendant. For chimpanzees have an un- 
canny intuition about people and whatever the keeper knew she 
knew as well. 

hi the end, with the twins* condition becoming more pre- 
carious every day, things got so desperate that I had to resort to the 



one method I did not want to use. I waited until she was close to 
one of the sliding doors and then, very quickly, fired a blank 
cartridge. Chimpanzees hate sudden noises and she moved so quickly 
that we were just able to pull the sliding door between her and the 
twins before she realised what had happened. 

Once she was away from her twins, Magnolia no longer seemed 
to mind about them and relations between her and Gussie were soon 
back to normal As for the babies, they were soon getting far more 
care from us than the majority of human babies get. For me they 
really were more important than human babies. There always 
seemed to be so many ordinary babies around and so few chimpanzee 
ones. Also, so much more would be learned from them. I hired the 
best children's nurses I could find in Miami, and spent day after day 
studying diet sheets and balancing their calories, proteins and carbo- 
hydrates. The whole regime of baby-care was followed with a 
precision to gladden the heart of Dr. Spock himself, and for some 
reason the nursery was always one of the most popular places in the 
whole station for visitors. 

The twins soon responded to their treatment, and really made the 
most ideal babies. Certainly I would always advise anyone who has 
the choice of looking after a human baby or a chimpanzee one to 
pick the chimpanzee ! For up to a certain age the intelligence of very 
young chimpanzees develops faster than that of comparable human 
children and this makes them perfect babies to look after. They are 
trustful and affectionate and seem altogether much better adapted 
to the processes of cuddling, nursing, feeding and diaper-changing 
than the human babies I have known. 

Curiously the twins never seemed to miss their mother, and when 
they were a little older, neither Gussie nor Magnolia took the faintest 
interest in them either. It was as if these two sedate chimpanzees 
had no wish to be reminded of their brief and unfortunate excursion 
into parenthood. They continued to live together very happily but 
Magnolia never again showed the slightest inclination towards 

It was not long after Pearl Harbour, late in 1941 that the 
research station was first hit by the restrictions of war. Almost 
everything we neeeded was soon in short supply. We could not get 



steel for the cages or building materials for living quarters for the 
itaff. It was practically impossible to buy any more chimpanzees and 
;he entrance money never began to cover the running costs. 

Worse still, because of the war, many of the research projects 
[ had been expecting to make use of my chimpanzees were dis- 
:ontinued and almost all the research that scientists were now inter- 
ested in doing with anthropoid apes would have involved cruelty of 
some sort. The only work I would permit was the regular taking of 
blood samples from several groups of my chimpanzees. As 1 had 
foreseen, several universities were interested in the chimpanzee's 
relative immunity to tropical diseases and this sample-taking soon 
became highly popular among the chimpanzees themselves. They 
always liked being the centre of attention and when they saw the 
doctor with his hypodermic they soon got the idea and became 
enthusiastic blood donors. They would offer him their arms, wait 
patiently while he found the vein, and show considerable interest 
in the blood as it mounted in the tube. 

But the full potentialities of the research station were not really 
being used, and I realised that we were going to have to hold on until 
the war was over if this particular dream of mine was to come true. 


15 A ULumour of Gorillas 

IT was the purest chance that my journey to New York in the 
autumn of 1941 should have involved me in what was to be the 
most harrowing adventure in my life. I had flown up from Florida 
to take delivery of a fresh shipment of chimpanzees that had just 
arrived from West Africa. There were eight of them five males 
and three females and as they were all in excellent condition, I 
had paid for them and sent them on ahead by plane. I was due to 
follow in a couple of days and was staying at my usual hotel on 
Central Park. 

I never sleep well in cities and the night before I had arranged to 
return I found it so hot inside the hotel that just before midnight I 
decided to go for a stroll and wandered down Sixth Avenue. There 
was a bar just beyond 42nd Street. I stopped there for a drink and 
the first man I saw inside was Rainez. I had not seen him for six 
years but I recognised him at once from the long scar that ran from 
his left cheek-bone down the side of his face. It had been inflicted by 
a leopard in French Equatorial Africa and it was there that I had met 
him originally. Rainez was an Argentinian. He called himself a 
prospector and had come to Equatorial Africa looking for gold, but 
when the gold had failed to turn up he had tried to make a living 
collecting wild animals for zoos. 

When I had first known him he was not doing particularly well, 
but clearly his fortune had changed from those days and he offered 
me a drink as soon as he saw me. 

"What are you doing in New York ?" I said. "Have you found 
gold at last?" 

He nodded. "Yes, I've struck it rich." 



"Congratulations," I said "Where?" 

"French Equatorial," he replied. "It was there all the time, only 
it wasn't in the form I expected/* 

"What form was it in then ?" I asked. 

"Gorillas," he said. "I'm in partnership with a man in Brazza- 
ville who has three on his hands at the moment. We're shipping 
them over to America in a few weeks' time. If you want one I'll 
let you have it cheap. Five thousand dollars and no questions 

"Not interested," I replied. "I don't buy smuggled animals. 
Anyhow, I couldn't afford your price even if I did." 

"Pity," he said, smiling. "I'll have no difficulty raising fifteen 
thousand on the three of them. If I don't sell them here they'll go 
easily enough in South America. You know, they're getting 
scarce. Once I've brought this batch over I'm not risking any more. 
This smuggling as you call it is getting too damned risky." 

We had another drink and chatted a while, but the truth was that 
I simply did not believe a word Rainez was saying. I remembered 
that he could be a boastful man, especially when he had had a drink 
or two, and I knew that according to all the experts, there were very 
few gorillas left in Africa. These were in the Virunga range of the 
Congo, and on my own Congo expedition, I had already ex- 
perienced how jealously the Belgian authorities guarded them. 

"You know, Rainez," 1 said, "youVe not got these gorillas. 
Even if you could have got into the Congo to catch them you'd 
never bring them out alive." 

"Who's talking about the Congo ?" he replied. "It's not the only 
place you can get gorillas. Haven't you heard of French Equatorial 
itself? There's more gorillas there to-day than in the whole of the 
Belgian Congo put together. Why, there's one place I know where 
they're so common the local tribe actually hunts them for food." 

At this I started laughing. "Really, Rainez," I said. "You know 
perfectly well the gorilla's the one animal that every African steers 
clear of. They're so dangerous that you'd never find a tribe mad 
enough to hunt them." 

"Very well," he said, getting up to go, "there's only one way to 
convince you," and pulling his wallet out, he showed me a dog- 



eared snapshot. It was of three young gorillas playing in what looked 
like a heap of straw. There could be no mistake about them and I 
estimated that each gorilla weighed about forty pounds. 

As he put the picture back in his wallet, I told him to wait and 
have another drink but he shook his head, buttoned up his jacket and 

I went back to Florida two days later as arranged, but during the 
next few weeks I could not keep that conversation with Rainez out 
of my mind. The snapshot he had shown me was certainly of gorillas, 
but I could not believe that they could have come from French 
Equatorial Africa. If a few gorillas did occur in that vast, little- 
known area, I could not believe that they were any commoner there 
than in the Congo and nothing was going to convince me that there 
was actually a tribe mad enough to hunt them. 

I was particularly concerned about all this because of the lifelong 
fascination gorillas had always held for me. As a child in Antwerp I 
remembered marvelling at the pictures of gorillas in du Chaillu's 
account of his travels in West Africa which were my favourite 
reading in the whole of my father's library. If anything, my interest 
in them had grown over the years. It was partly the closeness of 
gorillas to man in the pattern of evolution that caught my imagin- 
ation. I was intrigued when I learned that they were so near to 
extinction, but what fascinated me more than anything else was that 
so little was really known about them. With their size, their ferocity 
and their phenomenal strength, they had attracted the most far- 
fetched stories and legends ever since they had been rediscovered by 
a German naturalist in the Congo in the iSpo's. But in 1941 they 
were still among the least known animals in the world and the policy 
of the Belgian government in virtually sealing them off from all 
outside contact inside the Albert Park had only heightened the 

The nearest I had ever been to wild gorillas myself was on my 
Congo expedition when, in spite of the ban the Belgians put on my 
approaching them, I did actually see a family of five in the distance 
in a patch of wild celery when we were working high in the 
mountains in the Albert Park. Several times since then I had tried 
to get permission to go back and film them properly but permission 



was always refused, and once I had started the chimpanzee farm I 
often thought what an achievement it would be if I could only have 
established a similar breeding colony of gorillas in Florida itself. 

I heard nothing more from Rainez and cursed myself for not 
asking him for his address. I wrote to the bar on Sixth Avenue, but 
the bartender wrote back that he had never seen the man with the 
scar before or since. So I finally decided there was only one thing to 
do. I would start an inquiry of my own to find out whether Rainez 
could be right and whether there actually was an area I had never 
suspected somewhere in French Equatorial Africa where gorillas 
were abundant and where the people were bold enough to hunt 

I spent many weeks reading all the reports of Equatorial Africa 
that I could lay my hands on, and the only information I could find 
about gorillas outside the Belgian Congo pointed to an area which 
began some two or three hundred miles north of Brazzaville, the 
capital of French Equatorial Africa. There was no reliable informa- 
tion about their numbers but this was hardly surprising since the 
whole area was huge, difficult of access, largely uninhabited and 
virtually unexplored. It was little more than a blank on the map 
and no one could even tell me what the terrain was like. But by 
the time I had finished my work, I was convinced that at least part of 
Rainez's story was correct. The gorillas were there and there was a 
chance that they really were more plentiful than in the Congo 

From then on these gorillas became something of an obsession 
and I began working out ways of getting to Brazzaville to solve the 
mystery and if possible to bring back enough young gorillas to start 
the first breeding colony of them outside Africa. 

There was some urgency in this, for in 1942 it looked as if 
Germany was about to sweep across the whole of Africa, cutting us 
off from this entire area. If I did not hurry, I felt I might never get a 
chance like this again. Also if gorillas really were as seriously 
threatened as some people said, a breeding colony somewhere like 
Florida might be one way of ensuring the survival of the species. 

My arguments about the value of gorillas for scientific and psy- 
chological research carried some weight in official circles, and I 



began to get more support than I had hoped. Luckily I had a good 
manager who could look after the chimpanzee farm for me in my 
absence. My friend David Bruce, the American ambassador in 
London as I write, managed to arrange my passage across the 
Atlantic and when I sailed from New York in February 1944 I 
actually carried a letter of recommendation from President Roose- 
velt himself. 

I had to travel light. I had arranged to pick up my money from 
a bank in Brazzaville, and decided to wait until then before I 
equipped my expedition. All I took with me was a small suitcase 
with a minimum of possessions, an old battered lightweight suit 
and a single volume of the collected works of Jane Austen. 

This, of course, was apart from my camera. For although this 
was not a film-making expedition in the way my others had been, I 
could not bear to think of a journey such as I planned, without 
taking some means of recording it. So I carried a portable 16 mm. 
cine-camera and twenty thousand feet of colour film. Altogether 
the film, the camera and the light meter fitted into a canvas hold-all 
and weighed just over 45 Ibs. 

I mention the weight because I remember it only too well on the 
journey across the Atlantic. I was aboard an old Norwegian freighter 
zig-zagging its way across to Sierra Leone and every night when 
the siren went for a U-boat alarm, I would grab my precious hold- 
all, clamber with it in pitch darkness to the lifeboat and wait on the 
deck with it between my knees until the alarm was over. 

Rather to my surprise we succeeded in dodging the U-boats 
and once I had reached Freetown and Monrovia, I found I was able 
to hitch-hike aboard American service planes flying from airfield to 
improvised airfield all the way down to Brazzaville. It was slow, 
but it was fairly sure, and I reached Brazzaville by the end of 
February with my camera and my precious stock of film intact. 

At Brazzaville my troubles were only just beginning, for the 
city itself was in chaos. The French officials there had rallied to de 
Gaulle and the Free French Government in London, but farther 
north in the Gabon, the Vichy French were in control. As a result, 
Brazzaville was alive with rumour and I felt that everyone I met was 
spying for someone. Several people felt the same about me, and if it 



had not been for the precious letter from Roosevelt, my stay might 
have terminated abruptly. 

Worse still, as far as I was concerned, was the struggle I had 
getting official permission to journey north and capture any gorillas 
if I could find them. It took weeks of lobbying, nagging and waiting 
before I finally assembled all the stores and equipment I needed, and 
had my authorisation, with the Governor's heavy blue stamp, 
safely inside my passport. 

It was during these frustrating days of buying and stocking up 
that I realised how much I missed the blessed self-sufficiency of my 
earlier expeditions. Perhaps I had planned things too precisely in the 
past and carried more stores and equipment than we had ever needed, 
but that was infinitely preferable to this nightmarish trailing round 
from shop to shop in this sweltering city where the most mundane 
articles were often non-existent and I had to be grateful for what I 
could get at black market prices. 

Tinned meat was unobtainable, although I did finally discover 
one shop with a good stock of tinned butter and I was careful to lay 
in a good supply of dried milk to feed any baby gorillas I might catch. 
I also had great difficulty getting hold of tools to build the cages I 
was going to need. Even after a week of scavenging for six-inch 
nails, I never succeeded in getting as many as I needed. 

It was during these weeks I spent plodding around Brazzaville 
that I picked up the first of many troubles that were to dog me for 
the rest of the trip. The city must be one of the hottest places in all 
Africa and I was so anxious about the arrangements for my journey 
that I forgot to take even the most elementary precautions against 
the sun. For the one and only time in my life I got sunstroke. 
Stupidly I tried to ignore it after half a day in bed, but apart from 
the headaches it gave me and the strange effect it had on my vision I 
found that for many weeks afterwards I became dizzy if I had to 
stay on my feet for longer than a few minutes at a time. 

But finally I was ready to go. I had bought a second-hand Dodge 
truck and placed all my stores aboard. I had liired an African cook 
called Joseph, who had just left the service of the local Corsican 
chief of police, as well as a boy called Zinga who had picked up 
some experience of looking after animals in the local zoo. My sun- 



stroke was still troublesome but I was not delaying our departure on 
account of that, and four weeks to the day after I landed at Brazza- 
ville, I started the truck and headed north up the broken-down 
track that some French cynic once christened "la Grande Route du 
Nord," the Great North Road. 

It was a moment of high excitement. At last I was on my way 
in search of an animal that had puzzled me all my life. During the 
next few weeks I would settle this mystery of the gorillas once and 
for all; for the strange thing was how little information anyone 
seemed to have about them even in Brazzaville. Some of the officials 
had heard about gorillas to the north, but they had no idea of their 
numbers or where they occurred and it was impossible to find out 
anything of the strange tribe Rainez had talked about. 

Several people had warned me of the road, but it proved worse 
than all the warnings. The surface was atrocious, loose and treacher- 
ous with potholes big enough to bury a sheep in. The going was so 
tough that in the first thirty miles or so out of Brazzaville the radiator 
nearly boiled dry, the clutch developed the most alarming rattle and 
I thought we would have to return to a garage in Brazzaville. But 
after waiting for the engine to cool down, filling the radiator again 
and topping up the oil, everything seemed to be all right and we 
set off again in the cooler atmosphere of the late afternoon. 

This time the truck, in that strange way trucks have, made short 
work of the hills and sandy stretches, and by the time darkness was 
falling we were able to make camp with more than sixty miles 
between us and Brazzaville. 

Next morning we were off early; suddenly the exhilaration was 
intense. Not that this was anything like the sort of country I had 
expected. I had been prepared for the deep virgin forest of equa- 
torial Africa. Instead here we were driving through rolling savannah 
country with neat rounded hills reminiscent of the Sussex Downs. 
Most of the time it was too sandy for trees and too open for game, 
although every so often we would find ourselves driving through a 
narrow belt of forest. 

But it was Africa. It smelt and felt like Africa and for the first 
time since I arrived I had the sense of being back at last in this 
continent I loved above all others. I remember die skies that day 



better than I remember the landscape, skies that were always chang- 
ing as they do in this part of Africa, with great tumbled banks of 
white and grey broken by patches of the deepest blue beyond, and 
all the time lightning was playing across the layer of mauve storm 
cloud along the horizon. 

Although I was so anxious to find the gorillas I knew that 
my sunstroke made the hot hours of the middle of the day a real 
danger to me and we took the journey in easy stages, stopping each 
day for a couple of hours for a leisurely lunch off the small folding 
table I had bought in Brazzaville. At night we pitched tents and 
slept rolled in blankets, for the nights were surprisingly chilly. 

Each day the road seemed to get a little worse and each day I 
would be waiting for the countryside to change to die deep primeval 
forest where I expected to find my gorillas. It never did. The rolling 
savannah country continued. The only sign that we were getting well 
away from Brazzaville came when 1 noticed that fewer and fewer 
of the local tribesmen we passed were now wearing the filthy cast- 
off European clothes they insist on wearing when they are close to 

By the fouth day we reached the area where I thought the gorillas 
should be, and I was beginning to get anxious. For not only did the 
terrain seem wrong for these animals but whenever I stopped to 
inquire about gorillas from any of the local tribesmen, I was always 
met with the same blank expression. I was just beginning to think 
my entire journey had been a complete mistake when my luck 

We reached the town of Okio. Perhaps it is being over-polite to 
call it a town as it was little more than a cluster of huts and bungalows 
where the local French administrator had set up his headquarters. 
The administrator himself was away when we called and we were 
met by his deputy, a young man from Alsace called Scheler. He was 
a quiet, undemonstrative fellow, rather a change from the run of 
French administrators in these remote areas who are usually only too 
grateful for some company and gossip from the world outside. But 
I liked him. He had integrity and an obvious feeling for this for- 
gotten bit of Africa. 

His bungalow was a large one and he invited me to stay the night. 



It was not until that evening after we had eaten that I raised die 
subject of the gorillas. 

At first he looked surprised that I should have mentioned it 
at all 

"Well," he said, "there are gorillas in the district." He could 
not say how many, but it was not advisable to get near them. They 
were very dangerous, they were a long way from Okio and Euro- 
peans were always best advised to keep well out of their way. 

But was it true, I asked him, that there was actually a tribe that 
hunted them ? 

Again he looked surprised, and paused a while before answering. 

"Just what do you want, Monsieur ? If you tell me I'll do my 
best to help you." 

So I told him the whole story, about Rainez, about my anthro- 
poid ape farm and my chimpanzees, and about my expedition; 
when I had finished he puffed thoughtfully at his pipe, still saying 

I was beginning to get annoyed at his silences. 

"But is it true about this tribe hunting gorillas ?" I asked again. 

He shrugged his shoulders. 

"Sure, it's true enough. There's one tribe that does regularly, 
but I must warn you, it's not a particularly pretty sight. And it's 
also extremely dangerous. I would advise you to leave this business 
alone. While you are in my district I am responsible for you and it 
could cause me a lot of trouble if anything happened to you." 

I argued with him: I told him that I already had permission for 
the expedition from his superiors in Brazzaville, I said that if I was 
silly enough to risk it, that was my affair, and I finally showed him 
die letter of recommendation from President Roosevelt. 

"Mr. Denis," he said, "I see you carry heavier guns than I can 
cope with. Be ready to set off by eight o'clock to-morrow morning 
and I will show you your tribe. Whether they will show you any 
gorillas is up to them." 

Scheler was as good as his word. At eight next morning we were 
on the road pounding along the dried-up track that led westwards 
from Okio across the bush. We drove most of the morning, not 
stopping for lunch, and in the early afternoon reached die outskirts 



of an African village with Haifa dozen women working away at the 
threadbare fields that had been cleared from the bush. 

The village was half a mile beyond, a sad, tumble-down affair 
with an abandoned medical dispensary and two or three dozen 
huts. It was called Oka. When we drew up a few old men came out 
to stare at us and Scheler called one of them over and introduced 
him. He was very short with bandy legs and one of the wickedest 
old faces I have ever seen. Where his left hand should have been 
there was just a claw with the remains of two fingers. 

"This," said Scheler, "is Chief Bamboo. He is a great hunter of 
gorillas and will give you all the help you need. If you would like 
to stay in his village he will be highly honoured. I would suggest 
you camp in the old dispensary, as the roof is fairly sound and you 
will be no more uncomfortable there than anywhere else. And one 
last word," he said. "For heaven's sake be careful These brutes 
you are after are not just large monkeys. They're devils. Look after 

With that he shook hands and drove off and for a moment I 
found myself wondering just what I had let myself in for. 

But there was work to do. The sooner my camp was set up the 
sooner I could start looking for gorillas, so we drove over to the old 
dispensary and started unloading our stores on to its ramshackle 
veranda. Zinga seemed quite pleased with his quarters and began 
setting up the pressure lamps and the folding table ready for the 
evening, but Joseph, my cook, began to wail almost at once and I 
realised just how incompetent a housekeeper I was. For, as Joseph 
pointed out with tears in his eyes, I had brought no salt, no baking 
powder, no laundry soap and no cooking fat. 

"Never mind," I said. "To save on the laundry I will do without 
a shirt and instead of cooking fat we will use Australian butter." 

Luckily I seemed to have bought far more tinned butter than we 
would normally have needed. Instead of baking powder I told him 
to use the traditional method I remembered from my last trip to the 
Congo; the cook keeps a bottle full of chewed-up banana which is 
allowed to ferment and is then added to the bread in the place of 
yeast. As for the salt we would just have to do without. If all else 
failed we could fall back on tinned milk and the apricot jam oi 



which, for some reason, I seemed to have kid in truly majestic 

No sooner was this settled than I had other business to attend to. 
Chief Bamboo arrived on an official visit He wore only a rag in 
lieu of trousers, but in honour of the occasion he had put on a very 
torn, very greasy, European dress shirt, complete with clip-on bow 
tie. As soon as we had exchanged courtesies he handed me his present 
of welcome, a small, sadly undernourished goat with the short legs 
and bloated stomach common to all goats in this part of Africa. 

I knew that this present called for payment within the hour at a 
slightly higher rate than if I had been buying it on die open market, 
and accepting it with the mixture of gratitude and casualness that 
seemed called for, handed it to the disdainful Joseph for decapitation. 

But this was not what Chief Bamboo expected and no sooner 
had I passed the goat to Joseph than the old man launched into a 
frantic harangue, angrily waving his claw in my face, and telling me 
in pidgin French that he wanted immediate payment. 

This, 1 thought, was hardly the way to manage an exchange of 
diplomatic courtesies but to keep the old man quiet I took fifteen 
francs from my wallet and offered them to him with as much 
dignity as I could muster. Furiously he threw them to the ground 
and, shouting louder than ever, called the entire village to witness 
that the goat was worth twenty francs if it was worth a centime. 

Normally 1 would not have argued, but I felt that here more than 
just five francs was at stake. Our whole future relationship depended 
on whether I let him get away with this or not. So I grabbed him 
by the collar of his greasy dress shirt, propelled him into the road, 
and sent his fifteen francs flying after him. The last thing I saw 
before I closed the door after him was Chief Bamboo, carefully 
picking up his fifteen francs from the road and then, still in his dress 
shirt and bow-tie, standing to attention and giving me a cracking 
military salute. From then on our relations were cordial in the 

So cordial in fact that less than two hours later he sent a messenger 
round to tell me that some of his tribe from a nearby village had just 
returned from a hunt with a young gunlla actually in captivity. 
Was 1 interested? 

1 80 


Without so much as waiting to tell Joseph where I was going I 
bundled the messenger into our truck and tore off to the village. 

It took just over an hour's back-breaking driving to get there and 
when we arnved the whole of the tiny village was in uproar. 

"Come quickly," they shouted to me. "He's over here, in this 
hut. We've been keeping him for you." 

And there inside the hut he was. Not the defenceless baby 
gorilla I had been expecting, but a huge animal, far larger than I 
had ever thought it possible to catch, waiting for me in a great cage 
of branches and vines inside the gloom and stench of the hut. 

At first all I could make out was a dark mass of matted black 
hair, for the animal was sitting huddled in one corner, its hands 
covering its face. Then suddenly as I peered in at it it saw me and 
with the shriek and fury of a maniac hurled itself at my side of the 

By a miracle the bars held and for the first time I saw its face as 
it glared at me with a savagery I had never seen in an animal before. 
This was not the face of a gorilla as I expected to see it. This was 
something more frightening and more pitiful. 

It was like a mask eaten into by some flesh-consuming disease. 
The lips were gone. The nostrils were eaten almost away and the 
fangs of teeth were blackened and askew in what remained of the 
creature's lower jaw. Only the eyes were untouched and they glared 
at me with indescribable fury. 

By this time most of the men who had captured the gorilla had 
crowded into the hut and reluctantly I had to tell them it was no use. 
Whatever the disease was the wretched animal had caught I had no 
idea, but I knew there was only one thing to be done. 

So I paid the men for their work and then with a heavy heart 
ordered them to kill it before it suffered any further torment. They 
speared it and it died swiftly and without a murmur. 


1 6 The First Capture 

AS I drove back to Oka I had my first sense of foreboding about 
XjL the expedition. Obviously Rainez had been right. There 
were gorillas here in numbers that no one else had suspected. 
With the help of this strange tribe that hunted them with such 
evident expertise it would not prove too difficult to capture some; 
provided I paid the hunters enough I could make it worth their 
while to preserve the animals, instead of slaughtering them in- 
discriminately. Before leaving, Scheler had explained to Chief 
Bamboo the price I would be willing to pay for all the live animals 
they could get hold of. 

But what about this terrifying disease ? I had never heard of it 
before. Just supposing all the gorillas in this part of Africa suffered 
from it? What then? 

I remembered the hunters had mentioned killing another 
gorilla when they captured the one I had just seen, so when I 
arrived in Oka I sent them a message asking to see its remains as 
soon as possible. They arrived that evening. Its body had been much 
too heavy to carry and had been cut up for meat on the spot. But 
its head remained untouched and four of the hunters brought it to 
me in a basket slung from a long piece of wood. 

I paid them for their trouble and there on my veranda, by the 
harsh glare of my petrol lamp I opened the basket for my first sight 
at close quarters of the head of a fully grown male gorilla. My first 
fears were groundless. This gorilla had been untouched by disease. 

The head was well over a foot long and weighed 28 Ibs. It was 
covered with coarse black hair forming a mane at the back; the 
teeth, a dull, matt brown, were as big as a lion's. Drained of blood, 



the lips, gums and tongue had a curious ivory whiteness about them. 

Unlike the other gorilla I had just seen, this one's expression 
was not particularly ferocious. A spear had broken the left cheek 
bone and the eye on this side was revulsed. Despite this the face re- 
mained surprisingly human in expression, reminding me vividly of 
a lady I knew well in New England, who lived in a village and wrote 
books. This poor gorilla had the same look of painful concentration 
that she always presented to the world. 

The important thing was that I now knew that the frightful 
disease I had seen only that morning had not spread to all the 
gorillas in the district. My expedition was not doomed from the 
start as I had thought it might be. 

By now it was getting on for midnight and I suddenly realised 
how unwell and exhausted I felt myself. All the excitement and 
exertion of the day had brought on a recurrence of the sunstroke I 
had in Brazzaville and I was on the point of collapsing into my bed 
when I heard shouts and singing from the far side of the village. 
More shouts followed. People began scurrying out of the huts. 
Torches were lit. Then across the path in front of the veranda 
marched an exultant group of hunters. When they saw me they 
stopped and, calling me in their dialect, began pointing triumphantly 
to the centre of the crowd. For there, carried on the shoulders of 
eight men was a great crush Utter of heavy branches. Strapped to it 
with vines, in a semi-sitting position, its huge fists on its knees, was 
the immense body of an old male gorilla. 

At once, my fatigue forgotten, I hobbled down the steps to in- 
spect their prize. This was the first fully grown gorilla I had ever 
had a chance of examining. At last we got him free from the litter 
and with the combined efforts of a dozen men stretched the stiff 
body out flat on the ground, so that I could start to measure it. 

He was not as tall as I expected. From the soles of Ms feet to the 
bony crest of his skull measured only 5 ft. 2\ ins., but it was the 
spread of his arms that was so immense. From finger-tip to finger- 
tip of his extended arms measured 7 ft. 9 ins., and his chest 52! ins. 
The figure that impressed me most, however, was the measurement 
round the neck, 29! ins., and the rest of the limbs had a circumfer- 
ence in proportion. The upper arm was i8j ins., the forearm 15! 



ins., the wrist irt ins., the thigh 25 ins., the calf 16 ins., and the 
ankle 14^ ins. 

Put like this the measurements seem simple enough but when I 
was faced by the massive body I found them difficult to appreciate 
and had the carcase turned and placed in position after position just 
to understand its proportions. The most impressive view was from 
the back, with the huge buttocks, the massive waist, the terrifying 
power of the high square shoulders, and the neck so short and 
monolithic that the head seemed to emerge almost straight from the 

The chest and most of the back were bare to the black leathery 
skin, but the rest of the body was thickly covered with coarse hair, 
some black, but most of it white, giving this old male a distinctly 
hoary impression of age. The hair was especially thick on the upper 
arms as if to emphasise the massive strength whilst the reddish colour 
of the hair on the top of the head, so noticeable in young gorillas, 
had totally disappeared. 

As I gazed on him I felt my first real qualms about catching 
gorillas. From now on it would be creatures like this I would be 
facing; this big male made the idea of capturing gorillas a very 
different proposition from the way it had appeared to me in New 
York. I also hated the idea of having anything to do with the killing 
of animals like this. The hunting went on of course whether I was 
there or not, since gorillas were an important source of meat for 
the tribe, and I knew that the rewards I was offering for live gorillas 
should soon bring down the death-rate on the hunts. Neverthe- 
less death like this was not pretty, and had to be set against the 
excitement of everything I was discovering. 

As if to set my mind at rest, Chief Bamboo suddenly appeared 
through the crowd, grinning all over his wicked old face and waving 
his claw of a hand at me in greeting. He had good news. The last 
of the hunters had just returned bringing with them a young 30 Ib. 
gorilla and he was alive. It was the most exciting thing that had 
happened since I left Brazzaville but even as I tried to follow him 
over to his hut where the young gorilla had been put I realised I was 
all in. I could hardly make one leg follow another, 

"To-morrow/' I shouted, "Let me come and see him to- 


morrow. Look after him well for me and I'll see you get a good 



Even then I could not force myself into bed, for the villagers had 
started skinning the old male by the light of the petrol lamp as he 
lay in front of my hut, and I found the sight too unusual to miss. So 
I dragged myself up on to the veranda, and propping myself 
against the railings watched them long into the night. Opened and 
exposed the body looked larger than ever with its huge thoracic 
cage and the mass of muscle on the chest and arms. Most frightening 
of all were the hands, for once they were skinned and the matted 
black hair removed they looked grotesquely human as they lay 
there on the veranda floor. 

When I finally went to bed I slept only fitfully and woke long 
before dawn. My head still throbbed but the dizziness had left me 
and I found I could walk. I was suddenly anxious to see the young 
gorilla old Bamboo had told me about the night before, so I took 
my torch and walked across to his hut. I found the cage at the back 
and shone the light in at the first successful capture of the expedition. 

The young gorilla was obviously needing sleep more than I did, 
for he was lying on his side, his limbs hunched in a curiously foetal 
position and his eyes tightly shut. The light on his face did not wake 
him, and 1 could see the steady rise and fall of his breathing although 
his sleep was absolutely silent. For the first time in my life I smelt 
the strange subtle odour of a young gorilla, a faint, sweetish, 
slightly choking smell quite unlike the strong wild stench of the 
adult gorilla that still clung to my clothes from the previous night. 

Here, after the weeks of uncertainty and frustration was our first 
real success. But then I remembered that old male I had watched 
being dismembered on my own veranda so recently, and made up 
my mind that I was going to do what I could to stop this killing. 

By now I had learned quite a lot about this strange tribe. To 
look at they were nothing special. The men were slightly under- 
sized by African standards and the women were mannish-looking 
and shaved their heads, which did little to improve their looks. But 
what was remarkable about the tribe was the way its entire existence 
centred round the gorillas. They had hunted them from time 
immemorial and the animals had become not only the source of 



meat for the villages, but also provided the tribe with its one in- 
dustry, its main excitement in life and the inspiration for its dances. 

As a result the villagers no longer spoke about the gorillas as if 
they were animals. For them they were really a rival tribe and 
when they went out to kill them it was not a hunt but a war that 
was pursued ferociously with the sort of wild courage that Africans 
traditionally put into their tribal battles. For them the big old 
male gorilla I had seen the night before had been a famous chief. 
That was why they were so pleased with themselves when they 
brought me his body, and they would speak of him having wives and 
children exactly as if he had been one of their own chieftains. 

It was because they regarded the gorillas as a hostile tribe that 
the slaughter was so great. If they had been sensible about it you 
would have thought that once they had killed enough gorillas to 
feed the village for the next few weeks they would have called the 
hunt off and come home satisfied, but it was not like that at all. 
Once they caught sight of the gorillas the tribe would go mad. 
Sometimes men would rush straight into the most terrible danger, 
and the fact that I was offering them a good price to preserve the 
lives of the gorillas they caught meant next to nothing to them. 
All they wanted was to kill. I have seen men in the middle of a hunt 
come up to a gorilla that had already been slain and start to beat it 
and spear it savagely. It was as if they were still moved by an in- 
satiable hatred for the animal. 

If I was to stop that I knew there was only one thing for me to do. 
From now on I had to go with the hunters and be there at the 
capture myself. There was no other way of restraining the blood 
lust that seemed to rise up in these people whenever they got near a 

The way they hunted was ingenious, and had been passed OB 
from generation to generation. 

First the trackers would go out, usually after rain, and once they 
had picked up the spoor they would follow it for miles across the 
open savannah. The gorillas lived in families numbering as many 
as twenty or even thirty inside the galeries forestieres the patches 
of forest I had noticed on my journey from Brazzaville. During the 
day the group would leave the forest and go off in search of food in 

1 86 


the open country, sometimes even reaching the village fields and 
scaring the women away before scavenging for manioc, maize, 
pineapples or anything they could lay hands on. 

Once the tracker had picked up the trail left by one of the 
gorilla groups in the open country, he could be sure it would 
ultimately lead him back to the part of the forest where the family 
would spend the night. These trackers knew what they were up to. 
They would never risk actually entering the forest themselves. 
This would have been foolhardy since the gorillas would certainly 
have heard them and would either have attacked or else panicked 
and fled for miles. 

Instead, if the tracks entered a patch of forest, the trackers circled 
it completely to make sure that no tell-tale tracks led out again. 
When they had satisfied themselves that the gorillas were inside they 
would circle the patch of forest once more, listening. The hearing of 
these men must have been extraordinarily acute, for in the end, just 
as dusk was falling, they would pick up the sound of the gorillas 
settling down for the night the cracking of branches, the tearing 
off of twigs, and the puffing and grunting of the big gorillas building 
their nests for the night. From these sounds the trackers would be 
able to pin-point the position inside the forest, knowing perfectly 
well, since gorillas are heavy sleepers, that there they would remain 
until an hour or so after sunrise die following morning. 

As soon as the noises in the forest ceased, the trackers would 
run back to the village with the news. I would hear them in the 
middle of the night, while they were still a mile away, singing, and 
shouting the news of their discovery. They would know from the 
tracks, how many gorillas were in the patch of forest, and how many 
"mwanas" young animals and babies. The whole excited village 
would hear and understand and prepare for the hunt even before the 
trackers reached home. Then, soon after midnight, the trackers 
would start out again with twenty or thirty more men armed with 
spears and long sharp knives. The trackers would lead them to the 
edge of the forest and point unerringly to the spot where the 
gorillas were asleep, and the men would set to work. 

Silently, delicately, in darkness so profound that even their 
night-seeing eyes were useless, they would begin to cut a narrow 



tunnel through the thick of the forest so as to encircle the sleeping 
gorillas. It was dangerous and back-breaking work. They would 
have to feel with their hands for the roots of the bushes and circle 
round trees too large for their knives to cut. Gradually they would 
advance. Sometimes they would drive their tunnel so close to the 
gorillas that they would actually hear their heavy breathing or the 
crackle of twigs as they shifted in their sleep. And sometimes one of 
the gorillas would awake and give the alarm. When this happened 
there would be nothing the men could do, for spears would be use- 
less in the dark and at such close quarters. If they were lucky the 
gorillas would just escape with the males barking angrily and the 
females rushing headlong behind them through the forest, carrying 
their young in their arms. But sometimes the old leader of the 
gorillas would turn and attack the men and it was in these night 
encounters that the most terrible wounds of all were suffered by the 

But if all went well the tunnel "would be completed just before 
sunrise and the gorillas would have heard nothing. This was the time 
when the main body of hunters arrived from the village carrying 
their spears, their guns and their nets. They would wait on the 
edge of the forest until the first glimmer of light filtered through 
the trees and made possible the work they had to do in the tunnel. 
Long before the sun w r as above the horizon they would have 
finished and throughout the length of the tunnel their nets would 
stretch, tightly fastened every two or three feet to the trees, facing 
the spot where the gorillas w r ere still asleep. 

These nets were far bigger than anything I had seen in Africa 
before. Thirty to forty feet long and five feet high, they were made 
out of tightly twisted native rope and were knotted into an eight 
inch mesh; the tribe would make them and keep them in repair, no 
small undertaking, since thirty or forty of these nets were needed for 
a gorilla hunt. 

Once these nets were stretched and firmly secured in the tunnel, 
on the side towards the sleeping gorillas, the hunters could feel 
reasonably safe and the need for silence and caution would be ever. 
They would all go to work then inside the tunnel with their axes 
and big knives, widening it to about fifteen feet. This time as they 

1 88 


worked they would sing and shout at the tops of their voices, know- 
ing that the net was between them and their enemy. 

By the time the gorillas had woken and seen what was happening 
the biggest of the males would pluck up courage and hurl himself 
against the net, A circle of spears and guns would be waiting 
to meet him, and the battle would start. 

The Fight in the Forest 

IT was not until I had been in Oka's village nearly a week that I 
got my first chance of carrying out my plans to accompany the 
hunters. For the villagers hunted only when they felt like it or 
,when the witch-doctor decided the auspices were right, and there 
was nothing I could do to hurry them. 

I spent these first few days, working with Joseph and Zinga, 
building ten large cages to house the gorillas we hoped we would 
catch. Chief Bamboo assigned several of his men to bring us 
timber from the forest, but even so it was hard work for the rest of 
us as I knew that we might have to pay with our lives if there was 
any weakness in the cages. 

Then, late one afternoon, the village was suddenly swept with 
excitement. Some women who had been harvesting maize just 
outside the village came shrieking that they had spotted a pair of 
gorillas near their field. The men started shouting as well. The 
witch-doctor was summoned to make sure that a hunt would be in 
order for the following day and as soon as he had pronounced in 
favour of it, the trackers went off to trail the two gorillas through 
the bush. 

From then on, it was exactly as if the village was mobilised for 
war. The men were everywhere, sharpening spears and rolling up 
their nets, whilst the women were preparing the food the village 
would take with it on the hunt. I took the precaution of presenting 
Chief Bamboo with a couple of handfuls of the gunpowder I had 
brought with me from Brazzaville, before asking whether I could 
go with the hunters. He nodded quite cheerfully, so I loaded my 
camera in readiness for the morning and went off to an early bed, 
leaving Joseph with strict instructions to call me at first cock crow. 



As it happened 1 need hardly have bothered him. In the first 
place, in this part of Africa, the cocb seemed to crow all night long. 
In the second, the noise of the village of Oka working up its courage 
for a gorilla hunt would have wakened the dead. For several hours 
I tried to ignore the din and lay, tossing on my camp bed, cursing the 
dancers, the drums and every gorilla in French Equatorial Africa. 

Finally I gave in, slipped on my sandals, and made my way 
through the pitch-dark of a moonless night to the spot just outside 
the village where the dance was being held. 

It was a clearing about 30 yards across and everyone was already 
so intent on the dance that I arrived unobserved. Normally the 
village dogs would have barked and given me away but in this part 
there were nothing but a few mission-bred puppies and they were 
too amiable even to bark at a white man. 

A dance like this, when the performers do not know they are 
being observed, is a totally different affair from the sort of polite 
performance put on for white visitors, and this one was quite new 
to me. It turned out to be a well-acted version in mime of an entire 
gorilla hunt 

I have always been fascinated by the way an African dancer can 
turn himself so vividly into any animal of his choice, mimicking its 
behaviour down to the most minute detail. These dancers were 
superb and what made their performance particularly interesting to 
me was not the way it demonstrated the methods of the hunters, so 
much as what it told me of the reaction of the gorilla to attack. 

For suddenly I saw the man impersonating the gorilla stand 
right up, start striking his chest and then drop on to all fours to 
charge the rest of the dancers. Then in the most fearsome way he 
began seizing their legs and trying to tear the muscles away from the 
bone with the sheer force of the fingers a source of injury from 
gorillas I had often been told of but had never really believed* 

As a dance this gorilla hunt was inferior to the elephant dances I 
had seen among the Mamburi pygmies of the Congo or the hunting 
dances of the keddahs of Ceylon 1 think die minds of the dancers 
were too much on the actual hunt which was about to take place 
and very soon it was over. The rhythm of the tom-toms slowed 
down, the shadows from the dying wood fire grew longer and the 



dance became what dances usually are whether they take place in 
the jungle or in a night club a preliminary and an invitation to love- 

Here I felt the movements were less sophisticated, and the 
suggestiveness more direct than they might have been in New 
York. It amused me to see the Holy Virgin medals hanging around 
the necks of the dancers side by side with their pagan scapularies as 
they writhed in a frenzy of amorous contortion. They all had them, 
even the witch-doctor; for in theory they were all good Christians. 

I decided the time had come to leave them, and stole away to my 
lonely air mattress to get a few hours sleep before the hunt began in 
earnest, long before dawn. 

I was awakened at three sum. by Chief Bamboo in person. He 
had come to remind me of the gunpowder I had promised for the 
hunters and as I pulled myself from beneath my blankets I was struck 
by the chill of the night air. It still seemed pitch black, but the old 
chief must have had eyes like a cat as he led me across from the 
dispensary and through die village to where the hunters were 

"We must leave at once/* whispered old Bamboo. " The men 
have found many gorillas and the tunnel is cut ready for the nets. 
There will be a good battle and we must be ready for the animals 
when they wake." 

After the din and noise of the dancing the silence was now un- 
canny and it was not until we had reached the far end of the village 
that I saw that half the villagers were there already waiting to move 

Bamboo gave the signal and off we went, still in silence, the 
leaders setting a gruelling pace despite the darkness. We kept to- 
gether, marching in a long column like a battalion of infantry. For 
something like a mile we followed a track, then that petered out 
and we were in open country. The going became rougher. Time 
after time I found myself stumbling. My head began to throb, but 
there was nothing to do except follow the faint bobbing figure of 
Bamboo in front of me and I longed for daylight as 1 had never 
longed for it before. 

We must have walked like this for nearly two hours before 1 

11 It was partly the closeness of gorillas to mm in the pattern of evolution 

that caught my imagination" 

The author measures one of the first gorillas to fa brought into 
his camp at Ok, French Equatorial Africa 

Ritual dance before a gorilla hunt 

The net is put up and a spearman stands ready 

Waiting for dawn in the tunnel that has been cut round the part of the forest in 

which the gorillas are nesting 

Victim of the hunt 


of forest and I had gratefully accepted the shade of the trees as I 
trudged beneath them. But most of the time we kept on, straight 
across open country, and I found myself wondering where the 
gorillas could be, and whether I would be able to last out until we 
reached them. 

Suddenly, as if an unspoken order had flashed along the ranks, 
the singing and the chattering ceased, and in the hush I saw we were 
approaching another of those long belts of forest like those we had 
already been through. We covered the last three hundred yards 
practically on tiptoe and it was not until we had reached the edge of 
the thick, leafy, almost impenetrable forest that I spotted the place 
where a few bushes had been cut and a narrow tunnel driven 
through the packed underbrush. Inside the tunnel I could see a man 
squatting every few feet with his spear poised and almost immediately 
our men went in with the nets spreading them silently, efficiently, 
along the length of the tunnel. 

It all seemed too peaceful and orderly to be true, and I remember 
signalling to old Bamboo inquiring in sign language whether the 
gorillas really could be inside this patch of forest. The old man 
grinned ferociously and nodded. Just at that moment, as if to con- 
firm what he was saying, a sudden outburst of screaming and sharp, 
staccato barking, like the noise of a gigantic dog-fight, echoed 
through the forest apparently only a few feet from where I was 

There was a pause, then a deep roll followed, thudding like muted 
drums. I recognised what it was. I had heard it once before in the 
Kivu mountains in the Congo and it was the sort of sound that once 
heard is never forgotten, the noise of the big male gorilla poundino- 
his body with his hands. 

I was so excited that I expected the gorilla to come crashing out 
at us from the forest at once, but none of the hunters seemed par- 
ticularly concerned and I realised from the way they were going 
about their preparations that the hunt was going to be a long and 
complicated affair. 

Old Bamboo amused me. He had appointed himself quarter- 
master as well as commander-in-chief of the expedition and was 
making the rounds of the men who had guns, measuring each of 



them out a fistful of the black gunpowder I had given him earlier 
that morning. Now that I had a better chance to see these guns they 
caused me more anxiety than the gorillas. They were all muzzle- 
loaders and two of them were actually old flint-locks, roughly 
converted to work with a hammer and cap mechanism. Several 
cracked barrels were held together with copper wire, and another 
barrel was unmistakably a piece of old gas-pipe, with the screw 
threads still there at the end of the muzzle. But the marvel of marvels 
was a home-made two-barrelled contraption which fired both barrels 
simultaneously, an arrangement which scarcely seemed to increase 
the victims* chances of death whilst making the fixer's practically 

I asked Bamboo what these sharp-shooters used for bullets and 
he produced a precious little bag full of nails, screws, nuts and odd 
scraps of iron. These missiles, he explained, were rather special, and 
then showed me the standard bullets used on these hunts. They 
consisted of tightly compressed wads of metal from old tin cans and 
I recognised several of my own among them including discarded 
sardine tins, and cans of Campbell's soup and Heinz spaghetti. 

The hunters had something still more disturbing than this in 
their armoury. I saw several Africans loading their guns not with 
bullets but with short spears each tipped with a sickle-shaped chisel, 
the cutting edge of which was about 2| inches wide. The shaft of 
the spear w r as rammed down the barrel on top of a 4-inch charge of 
gunpowder and an inch of wadding. 

The owners of the guns sat quietly by as the last of the nets 
were being fastened, the blades of their spears poking threateningly 
towards the wall of trees from behind which the gorillas could be 
heard, their grunting and cries of alarm becoming louder every 
minute. After my long march I felt dizzy and was more grateful 
than I can tell for this interlude. It gave me a chance to find myself 
a spot in the shade on the edge of the forest where I could rest. I got 
a good twenty minutes respite and even managed to shoot several 
scenes of the hunters waiting by their nets. The buzzing in my ears 
was still as strong as ever but at least my vision was back to 
normal, and when Bamboo suddenly shouted for the hunt to move 
forward, I was ready to follow. 



Although by now the gorillas on the other side of the net hardly 
stopped shrieking and barking with alarm, they had not yet plucked 
up courage to attack the net and it was time for the hunters to make 
the next move. A compact group of them with knives and axes 
crossed through the net at right angles and working with enormous 
energy began cutting a new lane right across the area now enclosed 
so as to divide it into two. They worked rapidly, backing and chop- 
ping and shouting as they went, and ail the time they were backed 
up by a team of warnors armed with spears and guns. Once again 
these provided splendid scenes for my camera. 

Bamboo explained that it was usually this cutting team that 
made first contact with the gorillas and was often attacked, especially 
by the old male gorilla. As soon as he told me this, I determined to 
follow them, for by now I was caught up in the whole spirit of the 
hunt, and did not want my film to miss any detail of it. 

Perhaps this seems strange as all my life 1 have hated hunting. I 
despise the white man's cult of the hunt with the special clothes, the 
trained dogs, the expensive precision guns and the careful luxury of 
the kill. I have never owned or used a hunting gun and simply can- 
not understand why anyone should ever want to shoot an animal 
unless in hunger or extreme danger. 

But a native hunt is something different and I have often taken 
the opportunity of observing one. To the protein-starved forest 
dwellers hunting is a necessity, not a luxury as it is with the white 
man. The risks are more equal, and 1 tell myself that it will go on 
whether I witness it or not. In this case my presence would even be 
the means of saving the lives of many young gorillas who would 
otherwise be surely killed. 

I used also to love trudging through forest and stream. I used to 
pride myself on my ability to share all the hardships of the hunters, 
and I still know nothing to equal the feeling of being at one with 
them, with the same keenness of eye and ear, and the same casual- 
ness in danger. For these qualities are infectious and if I am honest 
with myself I have to admit that being on this gorilla hunt: satisfied a 
deep urge in me beside which the motor safari and the organised 
big game hunt would be little more than a joke. 

I followed close behind the cutters as they tunnelled slowly 



on through the forest, but although I was hoping for a sight of one 
of the gorillas there was another lull in their noise and I could 
imagine them regrouping somewhere behind the trees and waiting 
for the moment when they would charge the net and make their 
dash for freedom. 

The sun by now was rising rapidly and for the first time I really 
noticed the heat and my thirst. So I left the cutting party and came 
back through the net to the rough seat of branches I had made my- 
self in the shade. The men with the spears had stopped shouting now 
and were sitting around talking in casual groups. The sound of the 
men cutting into the forest gradually died away as the leaves 
muffled the noise. The hunt was obviously going to take its time. 

So I crept back to where the women had left the provisions. 
Most of the food consisted of rolls of manioc, retted in water and 
roasted in banana leaves. I could not face these. They were as tough 
and resilient as india-rubber. Nor did I particularly fancy any of the 
meat the women had brought. It was probably goat and was very 
old and very high. But I did find some bananas and a pineapple. 
They were more to my taste and when I had eaten I went back again 
to drowse at the foot of my tree until something happened. 

Of all the tropical forests I had ever been in this was probably 
the most comfortable. True, hundreds of tiny sweat flies had taken a 
fancy to me and covered my arms and knees. But there were no 
ants, no mosquitos, no ticks and no leeches. After a while my head 
nodded and I left the flies to make what they could of me. 

I have no idea how long I sat there asleep opposite the net, but 
suddenly a faint shuffling and cracking of branches jerked me 
awake, nerves tingling. As I watched I saw that in a right mass of 
branches on the other side of the net something was moving. I 
dared not make any noise to attract the other hunters who by now 
were mostly dozing quietly along the net. But slowly the branches 
parted and the huge head of a male gorilla peered through. 

For a moment I thought that my sunstroke had caused me to 
imagine him. Then I heard my heart pounding so loudly that he 
must surely hear, so close was he and so silent the forest. 

I watched the great eyes roll and then peer towards me. But I 
was in deep shadow. He could not see me, and I saw the head turn 



as lie caught sight of the group of seven or eight men relaxed and 
unprepared a few yards to my right. Before I could do anything to 
warn them, the head was withdrawn, and the curtain of branches 
dosed. Then the next instant he was crashing through the bushes 
towards us like an express train. 

I am sure he was not trying to charge me or the men, and I am 
sure he never so much as saw the net. This was the old leader's one 
wild dash for freedom. He paused for a fraction of a second when he 
saw the open space behind the net, and then rushed headlong to- 
wards us, tearing the net bodily from the trees on each side. 

For a moment the net held and he was thrashing in it in the middle 
of the lane. 1 ran forward and tried to focus my camera. 

This was extremely stupid of me. I had not realised that the 
men on my right had come to their senses and that I was now 
between them and the gorilla. They seemed to be rushing straight 
for me, a yelling horde with spears and harpoons raised and I had no 
time to get back to the shelter of the trees. 

To this day I have no idea how they missed me. Perhaps they 
were better shots than I thought. But one of them actually had one 
of the fearsome muzzle-loaders with its chisel-ended spear pointing 
straight for me. He stopped, raised it at arm's length in the general 
direction of the gorilla and holding it as far away from him as he 
could, he shut his eyes, turned his head away and fired. 

What happened then has remained photographed in my mind. I 
saw the man yank wildly at the trigger. For a moment nothing 
happened and the gorilla went on roaring and thrashing at the net. 
Then there was a tremendous WHOOF, more like the noise of a 
rocket than a gun. The gun flew back, cracking the man on the side 
of the face and knocking him clean over and the air was suddenly 
filled with a cloud of acrid smoke. 

I crouched where I was, unable to see a thing. Two more 
WHOOFS followed as other marksmen rushed to join in, and then 
the gorilla screamed. It was a cross between a shriek and a roar, 
infinitely prolonged and dropping down to a growl, gurgling deep 
in the animal's throat. 

I could still hear him thrashing away with his arms, and when 
the smoke lifted I saw that he was held precariously by the net 



Someone else fired. Three men hurled their harpoons simul- 
taneously and then scattered as the great gorilla with a last effort 
tore free from the net. 

Then I remember the wounded animal coming straight for me, 
its arms outspread, its mouth open and bleeding. 

I tried to run. The animal was perhaps eight feet from me by 
then and even as I dodged for the bushes my foot caught in a creeper 
and I fell, violently, right in the path of the charging animal. 

I remember thinking, almost dispassionately, that this was the 
end of my expedition and lying there, winded, waiting for those 
terrible teeth. But nothing happened. 

I heard shouting all round me and more shots and then realised 
that the old gorilla, although terribly wounded, had got away. In 
his escape he had jumped clean over me, and as I stumbled to my feet 
I could see that I was covered with the excrement he had dropped as 
he ran. Had I not fallen I would have stood straight in his path and 
would certainly have been attacked. 

Although the gorilla had gone I could see the hunters were still 
worried and when I had a chance to ask him, old Bamboo told me 
why. Apparently it was quite common for the "tata," the powerful 
old male gorilla, to escape like this and whenever it happened it 
spelt trouble. He would usually stay quite close and later in the hunt, 
when he heard the screams for help of the females, he would return 
to attack the hunters ferociously from the wrong side of the net. 

It was this that spurred the men on for the climax of the hunt 
was approaching. The female gorillas had picked up the shrieks of 
the old male and the forest was filled with die din as they joined in. 
Three times, isolated females charged the net and three times they 
were repulsed. 

All the time the work went on, with fresh tunnels being cleared 
and the nets being moved steadily forward until the enclosure with 
the gorillas inside had shrunk to less than a few hundred feet across. 

By now all the men were swarming around the nets waiting for a 
mass break-out from the gorillas, and it was not until I saw old 
Bamboo squinting anxiously up at the sky that I realised we were in 
for a storm. Half the sky was akeady pitch black and I knew as well 
as Bamboo did that a tropical downpour at this crucial point in the 



hunt would be disastrous. The rain would be so heavy that none of 
us would be able to move and we would be floundering in a sea of 

Bamboo started calling urgently in the local dialect and a few 
minutes later the ancient witch-doctor came waddling into the 
clearing with the tribe's rain ju-ju borne ceremoniously before him 
on the end of a long pole. 

As far as I could see it seemed to be the extremely greasy skin of a 
civet cat, but everyone treated it with great respect as it was shaken 
eloquently to the heavens. 

And it worked. Whatever it was it worked, for although the 
clouds massed and the forest darkened, the rain kept off. 

A few minutes later there was a commotion from farther down 
the net. A shot was followed by a great cry from the hunters; by 
the time I had hurried to the spot they had already started their 
triumphal song over die body of a large female that had been 
plugged neatly through the head with the compressed remains of 
one of my tins of Dominion Apricot Jam. 

I know it was apricot jam because I had seen it being loaded that 
very morning into die gun belonging to the boy who now stood 
beside the gorilla, a grin all over his face and an ugly gash in his 
chest caused by the recoil when he had fired. 

There was another shout followed by a fusillade of shots, and 
I looked up into the trees to where some of the men were pointing. 
Two huge bodies were swinging from branch to branch with the 
smooth assurance I had admired so often in orang-utans but had 
never thought possible for the far bulkier gorillas. 

These were both young adult male gorillas weighing 300 Ibs. or 
more apiece. If I had seen them walking I would have thought them 
incapable of lifting themselves up off the ground; yet here they were, 
high overhead, swinging expertly from tree to tree. 

All my sympathies were with them, and I held my breath, 
hoping that they would get away. Certainly the larger one looked 
as if he was going to make it. He was high and moving fast and had 
got right to the edge of the enclosure unscathed. But by now so 
many trees had been felled that he faced a wide gap, with the rest 
of the forest stretching away beyond* Somehow he had to get 



across if he was to escape and we all watched as he moved out on to 
the last slender branch. Slowly it buckled beneath its weight and 
with a despairing cry the animal threw himself off and tried to reach 
the forest beyond. 

It was too far, even for a gorilla, and he had hardly touched the 
ground before a dozen spears pierced him. 

Then the other one came to the gap. He saw how far he had to 
jump, and at the last minute his nerve failed him, leaving him hesi- 
tating high overhead until the guns could be reloaded and a lucky 
shot finally reached him. He fell in one long wheeling motion, 
turned over twice, and crashed at our feet just outside the net, 

The score stood at four dead. The hunters were overjoyed. 
The village would have meat now for several weeks to come and 
that was as important to them as the rewards I had promised for the 
gorillas they could capture alive. 

By now the morning had gone and the storm was threatening 
again. The sky overhead had become completely black and the 
civet cat was being walked round and round the slowly shrinking 
enclosure. I realised that the area enclosed by the nets could only be 
as big as a suburban garden and the men were working furiously to 
confine it still farther, constantly chopping at young trees and mov- 
ing the nets. 

Rain would begin any moment and any delay would be fatal I 
suggested to Bamboo that while we waited on one side of the net, 
the rest of the men should go round the other side of the enclosure 
and at his signal put up a great -shout to try to stampede the gorillas 
towards us. 

It was a fearsome noise the men made and it succeeded beyond 
our expectations. First to appear was a young adult male; before he 
could so much as charge the net four spears were hurled at him from 
deadly range and he was down inside the enclosure. 

This was the last of the big gorillas. Now it was time for die 
small ones I was so anxious to capture. To catch them every tree and 
bush standing in die enclosure had somehow to be levelled. There 
were scarcely twenty square yards left uncut when the first shout 
was raised and a biggish youngster came charging out, raced across 
the clearing and became entangled in the net. A dozen men jumped 



on him trying to pin him to the ground with forked branches, but 
he was too strong for them, caught one by the ankle and broke free. 

In a second he was racing across the clearing again, scattering men 
right and left and they were so scared of his strength and ferocity 
that I had the greatest difficulty in stopping them using their spears 
on him. 

Then he was in the net again and this time it caught him cleanly 
so that he could neither move nor get hurt. I had several basket- 
work cages made for me and although they were really too small 
for an animal of this size there was nothing else to put him into; 
so net and all, trussed up like a sausage, my gorilla was bundled in. 
He had skinned his hands but was otherwise completely unhurt. 

Then suddenly the hunt was over. With only a few feet of bush 
left uncut we saw two very young gorillas hesitating whether to 
make a dash for it across the clearing and almost before they could 
move we had the nets over them. That seemed to be that. But then, 
just as we were about to go there was another great shout of excite- 
ment from the hunters and they came grinning all over their faces 
holding the smallest gorilla baby I had yet seen. He looked very 
frightened and pathetic and had been nearly overlooked as he clung 
to a small tree. But he was perfect, healthy and completely unharmed 
and I realised excitedly that my plan had worked and out of the hunt 
I had won nine young captive gorillas. 

The hunters seemed as excited as I was and gathered round them 
to sing their traditional song of triumph for the end of a successful 
hunt. Even as they sang, the first spots of rain began to fall and soon 
it was sheeting down in a blinding hissing deluge. The last thing I 
noticed was the witch-doctor wrapping his rain ju-ju carefully in a 
banana leaf to keep it from getting wet. 


1 8 Death in Matadi 

IF I had known what was to be involved in the day's hunting I had 
just seen, I think I would never have left America in the first 
place, but that evening, back in my camp, I tried telling myself that 
it was no use being too squeamish about the deaths that had occurred. 
Even if I packed and left that night the gorillas would still go on 
being hunted and I had the knowledge that although seven gorillas 
had been killed that day, my presence on the hunt had saved nine 
young ones from the slaughter. 

Together with Zinga and several men from the village, I trans- 
ferred these nine animals from their light carrying-cages to the big 
cages we had built and gave them fruit to eat and water to drink. 
When I examined them I was relieved to see that they were all fine 
specimens and that none had been injured in the capture. 

Then, when I was satisfied that my gorillas were as comfortable 
as I could make them, I went off to eat my first proper meal of the 
day a corned beef hash that seemed to be one of the few dishes 
Joseph could remember from his days with the Chief of Police. 
Afterwards I sat outside on my veranda and read a few chapters of 
Pride and Prejudice by the light of my big petrol lamp. The glare 
soon attracted a cloud of insects but I took no notice of them and as 
I sat there I heard my gorillas for the first time calling to each other. 
It was the strangest of sounds, a low clucking noise, exactly like the 
noise a mother hen makes calling her chicks. I never heard them 
make it except at night and I can only suppose that it was some form 
of message of reassurance, for it would often break out in the middle 
of the night, a strange concert of barnyard noises that would last a 
minute or two and then die away as the gorillas, satisfied that they 
were not alone, turned over and went to sleep again. 



I used to wish that I could sleep as easily as they could. The old 
dispensary was riddled with white ants. There were rats in the roof 
and I could find no way at all of getting rid of the bugs that infested 
my room. They were a particularly powerful local breed and no 
known brand of insect powder seemed to have the slightest effect on 

But during the day I was so fascinated by these gorillas of mine 
that I hardly noticed the discomfort and the lack of sleep. I would be 
up early to supervise their first meal of the day. This would usually 
be of pineapples or manioc of which they all consumed fantastic 
quantities, and by now I had half the men in the village working on 
fresh cages for me. I had an official permit from Brazzaville to 
export up to thirty gorillas, and if my expedition was to justify 
itself I really needed to catch my full quota. 

During these days Chief Bamboo became the most valuable of 
friends. Through him word got round to the neighbouring 
villages that I would pay five hundred francs for a live gorilla and 
as other hunts returned so my stock of gorillas grew. 

Soon I knew my gorillas as well as if they had been members of 
my own family and I was struck by the remarkable resemblance of 
personality shown by gorillas captured from the same family group, 
resemblances that made the gorillas from one family quite distinct 
from those of another. The group from my first hunt were an easy- 
going lot who were soon inclined to make the best of things, rolling 
over on their backs when I came near, experimenting with their 
cages, and showing a decided interest in their new surroundings. 

But the next group brought in, consisting of two young males 
and a nearly adult female, appeared far less intelligent, never seeming 
to identify me with the source of their food and spending their days 
lying listlessly in their cages. 

As I gathered more gorillas still, I even began to notice marked 
physical similarities between animals from the same family. They 
might have shorter legs or longer legs than the average. Their 
colouring would tend to be the same, and I would even imagine I 
could detect the sort of facial similarities you find among members 
of die same human family. 

The rarest of all my captives was a day-old baby. In those days 



gorillas had never been bred in captivity and I was particularly 
thrilled to have the chance of raising this tiny gorilla virtually from 
birth. For one of the hunters had found him abandoned by his 
mother less than an hour old and had brought him to me when the 
hunt was over. 

He was very small and very appealing but it was something of 
a problem to know how to feed him as he was really too young to 
be bottle-fed on dried milk. It was Chief Bamboo who suggested 
an answer, offering one of his young wives as a wet-nurse for him. 
To my surprise this was a great success. The girl had no objection 
to feeding this unlikely infant, and for the rest of my stay in Oka 
the young gorilla lived among the other children of Bamboo's 

In total contrast to him there was my largest captive of all 
who was also a male. Incidentally it took an acrobatic grand ecart on 
his part before I could be sure of this fact, so small, set back and well 
concealed are the sex organs of the gorilla. Despite his size he was 
still very young perhaps eight to ten on the human scale but his 
face retained none of the appearance of childhood. Most of the time 
his expression was one of complete despair. 

I would watch him silently for a few minutes. To start with he 
would avert his eyes. Then reluctantly he would turn to meet my 
gaze. As soon as our eyes met his face would contort with hatred 
and with a great shriek he would hurl himself towards me against the 
wire of the cage. Then he would pick himself up and go back to his 
hunched, sullen position, nursing his knuckles from the battering 
they had received against the wire. 

He would take food occasionally from Zinga, but whenever he 
saw my fingers holding some tit-bit or other for him it would set up 
such a conflict of simultaneous hatred and desire that after snatching 
it from my fingers he would invariably drop it or else completely 
miss his niouth with it If he did accept a pineapple, his black teeth 
would tear at it with such fury that 1 could actually hear them 
gnashing together. 

I had been in the village over a fortnight before I had a chance of 
seeing what teeth like these could do to a human limb. 

It was a female that had done the damage. An old man had 



fired his converted flint-lock at her and missed. The gorilla in her 
turn had grabbed him by the leg and managed to bite him just once 
before a dozen spears had pierced her body. That one bite had been 
sufficient for the upper teeth to gash clean through to the bone and 
practically sever the calf muscle. 

Despite this shocking wound, the old man lay quite expression- 
less, not flickering an eyelid even when I drenched the gashes with 
cresol and camphor, the only antiseptics I had. The cuts were far too 
big for me to sew with my cotton thread, and as there seemed just 
enough of the muscle left to hold and allow the leg to heal, I dressed 
it, bound it up with Kodak film can tape for an adhesive, and took 
him in the truck to Okio, where there was an African medical 
assistant who, by general assent, could work wonders with his 
pique^pique, his hypodermic syringe. 

I am not normaEy a creature of habit, but at Oka I soon found my- 
self slipping into a routine of catching and tending to my gorillas 
and became strangely attached to the village and the people in it. I 
have memories of the times we hunted together, of being up with the 
premier coq in a chilly night with the sky brilliantly clear and studded 
with stars and of travelling miles across the open bush before dawn. 
Often we would be waist deep in the wet grass. My shoes would 
squelch water and the dripping stalks of elephant grass strike my 
face. But we would keep up a good pace, and when the sun rose 
and the dew steamed and every blade of grass sparkled we might 
rest for a moment to regain our breath. At times like this it was 
enough just to be in Africa again and I found myself hoping that we 
might miss the gorillas this time and be spared the sight of bloodshed 
on a day as perfect as this. 

But the hunting played too important a part in the economy of 
the villages to allow sentiment to come into it and I never knew the 
hunters to fail to find their quarry once they had set out. Gradually 
my stock of animals grew and after two months I had the satisfaction 
of owning thirty young gorillas that would certainly have perished 
if the hunters had had their way. I also had succeeded in shooting 
some of the most exciting sequences of animal photography of my 
life. I had not only filmed a hunt in its entirety but had also managed 



to film individual gorillas in the wild in a way that had never been 
done before. 

By waiting on the other side of one of the patches of forest from 
where the hunters were advancing, I was able to film a mother 
gorilla clutching her baby just before she rushed out to escape across 
the savannah beyond. I also filmed one of the old males pounding 
his chest as the hunters approached. This chest-pounding was quite 
different from the way it is described in most books on gorillas. 

The actual noise is not particularly loud or fearsome and the 
gorilla does not use his fists. He slaps his body just below the chest 
with his open palms, moving his hands in an upward circular move- 
ment, exactly as a man on a bicycle moves his feet. Although the 
gorilla I filmed was clearly doing it as a gesture of defiance, it is not 
always done in anger or to inspire fear. The animal seems to do it 
when anything has agitated him and I even saw one gorilla pounding 
himself while sitting down. 

There was another sound I heard the gorillas making which 
carried much farther and seemed to be a means of summoning the 
rest of the group in time of crisis. This was a curious clapping noise 
the animal made by beating the slightly cupped palms of the hands 
together, in much the same way as old colonial settlers used to clap 
to summon a servant. I never heard them make it in captivity but 
during a hunt this strange sound of clapping would echo through the 
forest, and I would know that the old male was calling the family 
for its last stand against the hunters. 

When my film was complete and I had as many gorillas as I 
could hope to carry back with me, I told Chief Bamboo that I 
could buy no more from his hunters and prepared for the long 
journey back to Brazzaville. It was now that I had niy first hint of 
real trouble. 

I had gone down early that morning to make the rounds of the 
gorillas at the back of the hut. They were being well looked after 
and I was pleased to see that even the sullen young male I had been so 
worried about seemed to have settled down. But there was just one 
gorilla that I did not like the look of. This was a young female, one 
of the first we had captured, and she had always been oae of the 
brightest animals I had. 



But now she was looking as miserable as only a young female 
gorilla can. Her food lay uneaten before her in her cage. Her eyes 
were running slightly and she was huddled in one corner whimper- 
ing to herself. I tried coaxing her with a pineapple which normally 
she would have jumped at. Now she just sat where she was and still 

At first I thought she had caught some sort of a chill, for gorillas, 
despite their size, are surprisingly delicate creatures. But by that 
evening I was thoroughly alarmed. She still would not take any 
food and had now developed violent diarrhoea as well. Her state 
was so pathetic that I stayed up most of the night nursing her, but her 
whimpering never stopped and 1 could not persuade her to take 

I had never seen anything like this before. The rest of the gorillas 
were eating their morning meal with their usual noisy relish and 
there she was, still huddled in the same comer where I had left her, 
too ill even to crawl forward for a bowl of condensed milk. 

As it happened it was on this very morning, just as I was trying 
to coax her to try the milk, that a group of tribesmen arrived from a 
neighbouring village. They asked to see me and seemed very ex- 
cited, shouting that they had travelled all night with a fine male 
gorilla for me. I walked over to them and saw that whatever they 
had was bundled into one of the roughly woven basket-work cages 
that are usually made to keep small antelope in. It had been slung 
from a pole by ropes and if the men really had been travelling ail 
night the animal must have had a rough time of it. 

When I peered in what I saw was not the sort of half-grown 
young gorilla 1 was trying to collect, but a real monster. He must 
have weighed about 280 Ibs,, all shoulders and chest, and of course 
was far bigger than anything that 1 would normally handle. Also I 
had all the animals 1 needed by now. But I felt I could not refuse 
him. The men had come so far and taken such pains to bring him that 
it would be churlish in the extreme to tell them to take him back 
again and I knew that if I did do this I would simply be signing the 
animal's death warrant He would certainly be butchered and eaten 
by the following morning. 

So 1 paid them their five hundred fanes and had a closer look at 



my latest gorilla. He was in bad shape. He had not been wounded, 
but the long journey he had had to endure in his cramped little 
cage had chafed his back badly. Gorillas are highly strung at the 
best of times and I could see that he was terribly restless and agitated. 

What worried me almost as much as the state of the gorilla was 
the state of his cage. These jungle cages are made by the villagers 
out of any materials to hand and they are not meant to last. Once 
you tear one part of it the whole thing falls apart and as far as I could 
see this was in danger of happening now. I had no bigger cage to 
put my new captive into as I was stocked to capacity. 

So, uncomfortable though it was for the gorilla, I had no alter- 
native but to try temporarily roping the damaged end of his cage, 
leaving him food, and putting a couple of men to warn me if any- 
thing happened. 

I had more than enough to do that day. I had arranged to return 
to Brazzaville in two days' time and the preparations for transport- 
ing thirty assorted gorillas single-handed across 300 miles of Equa- 
torial Africa are on a par with moving a large hotel or stocking a 
medieval army. The invaluable Scheler had promised me the use 
of his truck and had found me another that I could hire, so that 
transport was the least of my problems. There were all the emerg- 
ency stocks of this and that to think about, the hiring of extra 
animal men, the distribution of final gifts to the villagers, and the 
collection of our own food supplies. What with fussing over a 
thousand and one details like these, there was little time that day to 
spend worrying over my sick female gorilla or my agitated and 
highly uncomfortable male, apart from instructing Zinga to make a 
new cage for him as fast as he could. 

As far as I remember I was with Joseph, checking over the re- 
mains of our kitchen stores early that evening, when one of the men 
I had left guarding the big gorilla came rushing across the veranda 
screaming that the animal had gone mad and was escaping. 

There was not a great deal I could do. I had no gun and could 
not have used it if I had. But I had no illusions about the gorilla. In 
the mood he was in he was a killer and I did not like to think what 
would happen with him loose in the village. 

So I hurried over to the cages and was just in time to see the 



gorilla pulling himself through the broken end of his cage. I coidd 
see that his back was raw from the nibbing it had received the mght 
before, and as soon as my men saw him standing beside the cage they 
rushed off into the village to spread the alarm. 

The sight of half a dozen scampering Africans was just the thing 
the gorilla needed to make up his mind for him and he set off in 
pursuit. By now the village was in uproar. The women were 
screaming and I could see that several of them had already climbed 
up into trees, although quite what use this was supposed to be with 
a gorilla around 1 am not sure. All the noise obviously irritated the 
gorilla more than ever and he screamed back with rage before setting 
off along the deserted village street. 

I reaEsed that if any villager was hurt by one of my gorillas I 
would inevitably be held responsible; trouble of this sort could 
have the most serious consequences for an expedition like mine. If I 
was to stop this happening it was up to me to do something and to do 
it quickly. 

The first thing was to get the gorilla out of the village. So I ran 
up as close as I could get to him and began tempting him to come 
after me. To start with he did not seem too keen on the look of me 
and stood there in the dim light sniffing and grunting. 

Then I shouted at him and that annoyed him. Finally he did 
move, shambling after me back down the street; I led him on pur- 
posely until I was level with the door of the dispensary. Then I 
dodged inside, hoping that he would follow. 

I should explain that in the middle of this room was a large 
wooden table piled high with the cages in which I kept the baby 
gorillas. These made a pretty effective barrier. Certainly nothing 
could have jumped over it. Also the windows had fortunately been 
crudely barred as protection against leopards which were a constant 
danger to my gorillas and to myself. 

By this time the enraged gorilla needed no encouragement to 
come after me. I waited for him at the far end of the table. He lunged 
round it after me, shrieking with rage, but I just had time to skip 
round the other side of the table and out through the door. As soon 
as I was outside I slammed the door on him, and he was caught. 

But we had not got him back yet by any means. The lock on the 



door was not strong enough to hold an animal like him for long. I 
yelled for some of the men to come and help me, and while they 
were putting their shoulders against the door to stop the frenzied 
gorilla from bursting out, I tried to think of a way to get him back 
inside a cage. 

The only hope was to catch him with the nets, but this was more 
easily said than done. We could not risk letting him escape again, 
and no one would have stood a chance trying to net him alone in 
the room. 

Then I remembered the windows with the bars that had been 
put up against leopards and had an idea. If we could induce him to 
reach out for something we had a good chance of grabbing his hand 
and holding him tight. The bars, provided they held, would stop 
him reaching us with his teeth. 

This plan worked far better than I had ever expected. I had no 
sooner started rattling my stick against the bars than a great hand 
reached out to grab at it and three of us managed to grasp his wrist 
and hold it tight. We tried the same trick with the other hand and 
again it worked. 

Now came the crucial point of the capture. I shouted to the men 
to hold on for all they were worth and, grabbing a net, unlocked the 
door. Everything depended on the strength of those six men out- 
side, but by the dim light that filtered into the room from outside I 
could see that the gorilla was pinioned tight against the window. I 
managed to loop the net under his legs and up over his head. More 
men came in with nets and when he was safely trussed I shouted to 
those outside to let go. 

By now Zinga's cage was ready for him, and although it took 
another couple of hours to get him safely inside and disentangled 
from the nets, it was not until then that the first of the women came 
cautiously down from the trees. 

It was now just after eleven. I had not eaten all day and I felt 
weak with relief at getting the gorilla back. But the worst shock of 
all was still to come. 

I suddenly remembered the young female gorilla who had been 
so unwell earlier in the day, and thought I would have a look at her 
before going to bed. Her cage was at some distance from the 



dkpcnsary and the light from the petrol lamp on the veranda hardly 
reached it so that at first I could not see what had happened to her. 
I could make out her bulk at the back of the cage and saw she had 
shifted her position from the comer where she had lain all that morn- 
ing. It seemed a good sign to see her sleeping so peacefully. 

But then my eyes became accustomed to the darkness and I saw 
her back was towards me with her head doubled beneath. When I 
opened the cage I saw that she was dead. 

I was suddenly afraid. I had seen countless animal epidemics 
and diseases in my time, but never anything that killed with the 
speed of this. I remembered the scare I had over the first gorilla I 
had seen captured and the loathsome disease that had attacked his 
face. But I had since learned that this was comparatively rare among 
the gorillas in this area and was closely connected to the disease of 
yaws that occurs among the African tribes along the coast. Yaws 
kills very slowly. 

Instead, this was something that could kill a healthy young 
gorilla stone dead in under forty-eight hours; everything depended 
now on whether the other gorillas caught it. 

There was no chance to start looking for symptoms that night. 
But the rest of the gorillas were sound asleep and although I fetched 
my torch and shone it anxiously round the cages none of them 

So I went off to bed dreading what I would find next morning. 

Although I was so worried I slept well, a deep, dreamless sleep, 
so that 1 woke later than usual feeling refreshed and inclined to look 
on all my anxieties ot the previous night as much exaggerated. 
Beyond the veranda 1 could see two of the boys giving the gorillas 
their morning rations of yam and pineapple and they all seemed to 
be eating well. Even the big male there had been all the fuss over 
the night before was behaving himself. 

So I gave myself time to shave before going to the cages and 
examining every gorilla for symptoms of disease. There was 
nothing wrong with any of them. They were beautiful creatures, 
and as I examined them, one by one, I could hardly wait to get them 
safely back to Florida before there was any more trouble. 

The villagers were indignant when I insisted on burying the re- 



mains of the dead female gorilla. This seemed to them mere super- 
stition, coming between their families and a good meal. But as soon 
as it was done I felt free to get on with the last arrangements for our 
convoy back to Brazzaville next morning. These took much longer 
than I had expected. The news of our departure had got round the 
village and all day long a stream of villagers was making its way to 
the dispensary to say its farewells and satisfy its insatiable African 

On top of this round of sociability, I found that almost all the 
cages needed some repairs if they were to survive the journey down 
to Brazzaville. That was really hard work. It kept us up most of the 
following night sawing and hammering and roping until I was satis- 
fied we were going to be ready on time. 

We managed it and when Scheler and his two trucks rolled up, 
punctually at 9.30 the next morning, we were ready to load and be 
off. But first the formalities had to be observed and the village of 
Oka was all set on an official farewell. Old Bamboo turned out in his 
dress shirt and bow tie, the women piled the trucks with fruit, the 
witch-doctor carefully fixed a grass figure to the front of my radiator 
and only after I had distributed the last of my cigarettes and gun- 
powder were we allowed to leave for Brazzaville. 

The journey back was uneventful. Scheler came all the way with 
us as he had business in Brazzaville and I was glad of bis company. 
He would lead in his truck. I would follow in mine, with the third 
trailing behind. With him in the lead we made such good progress 
that we were back in Brazzaville by the evening of the third day. 

The gorillas had behaved impeccably. There was no further sign 
of disease, and miraculously, even the most jerry-built of the cages 

It was with Brazzaville and civilisation that things became difficult 
for the first time. No one had ever driven into town with thirty 
gorillas before and the idea of them seemed to throw the authorities 
into more excitement than if they had been thirty fully-armed 
Vichy Frenchmen arriving to take over the garrison. The first night 
I managed to camp with them just outside the city, but the next 
morning it seemed highly doubtful whether I was going to be al- 



lowed to stay at all When I drove into the city the police, the 
military, the health authorities and the immigration people all shook 
their heads when 1 asked them for help. 

"Gorillas, Monsieur," they would mutter as if I was trying out a 
practical joke on them, "don't you realise this is wartime?" 

The difficulty was to get my gorillas on to the next leg of the 
journey back. This involved crossing the broad Congo River over 
to LeopoldviUe, capital of what was then the Belgian Congo, and 
getting them on to the railway that runs the two hundred miles from 
LeopoldviUe to the port of Matadi At Matadi I would have to trust 
to luck for a ship back to the United States. 

An operation as complicated as this needed active official assis- 
tance. Without the help of Scheler I would never have got it, 
During that first day back in Brazzaville he was indefatigable. 
With his old-fashioned pith helmet pulled down round his ears and 
his pipe clamped firmly between his teeth he strode from govern- 
ment office to government office, explaining, insisting, cajoling, and 
at the end of the day I had the permission I needed. 

The only trouble was that the line down to Matadi was over- 
loaded and no one on this side of the river could say when I would 
be able to get the animals on to a train. I would just have to wait. 

Scheler was a resourceful fellow. He remembered he had a 
friend working as a technician in the Brazzaville Pasteur Institute, 
and through him some of my gorillas were offered the hospitality of 
the Pasteur Institute's farm outside Brazzaville. 

Meanwhile I had taken the ferry across to LeopoldviUe and made 
a similar arrangement, through the kindness of some Belgian officials 
I knew at the LeopoldviUe Zoo. 

These were useful places to leave the biggest and most dangerous 
of the gorillas but they accounted for only fifteen of them. The rest 
had to remain in my cainp, and for several days I spent all my time 
moving them across to LeopoldviUe on the ferry. Once more I was 
engulfed in the intricate problems of housekeeping for a family of 

Finally I got all my gorillas across to Leopoldville except for the 
six in the Pasteur Institute's farm at Brazzaville and the Belgians 
promised me that there would be only a day to wait for an empty 



wagon on the train down to Matadi. in fact there was nearly a week 
a week of anxiety and sheer misery. 

It all began the morning after I had brought the last of the cages 
across the river to Leopoldviile. I was staying at a small hotel not far 
from the railway station and just after eight there was a telephone 
call for me from across the river. It was Scheler's friend from the 
Brazzaville Pasteur Institute and very worried he sounded. 

"Sorry to trouble you," he said, "but it's that big male gorilla 
you left with us. Don't like the look of him at all. For nearly a day 
now he's not eaten a thing and he just sits huddled up and whimper- 
ing in the corner of his cage." 

The Brazzaville line was bad but I could hear quite enough. 
Resignedly I told the man I would catch the next ferry over and 
thanked him for the trouble he was taking. 

So we had brought the disease with us after all, and I knew for 
sure now that it was contagious. It sounded as though it had almost 
won its second victim already. 

By a particular stroke of irony this turned out to be the big male 
that had caused all the fuss when he had escaped from his cage just 
before we left Oka; he was very different now from when I had 
seen him last. The experts in the Institute said they had never seen 
anything like this illness before; although they were treating him as 
a suspected case of food poisoning and had somehow forced some 
medicine into him. This treatment was obviously producing no 
improvement. The poor thing was just sitting at the back of the 
cage and whimpering even more pitifully than the female I had seen 
dying of the same disease. 

I did not tell the man at the Institute more than I had to. I knew 
nothing with any certainty, and there was no point in alarming him 
further; but as I caught the afternoon ferry back to Leopoldville I 
knew I was going to need extraordinary luck if I was to avoid a full- 
scale epidemic among my gorillas now. I had no idea how it spread 
or what caused it, but I was not going to give in to it without a fight. 

One fact gave me hope. This was that the new outbreak was 
among the six gorillas I had left in Brazzaville. There was no trace of 
it among the far greater number of them I had with me in Leopold- 
ville, and there was just a chance that I might have isolated the disease 



safely inside the Brazzaville farm with the broad waters of the Congo 
River to stop it reaching the rest of my gorillas in camp. 

As soon as I got back to camp I organised as many men as I 
could find to work in relays fumigating every cage we possessed and 
scrubbing them out with disinfectant. This work went on all night. 
So did my work of inspecting each gorilla individually for ticks or 
insects or anything that could be the cause of this illness, and every 
animal, as it was put back into its newly cleaned cage, was thoroughly 
dusted with insecticide. 

When it was finished I was satisfied that I had done as much as 
I could to prevent the disease. More important, I could see no signs 
of it among any of the gorillas that had been through my hands. 

At 11.30 next morning the telephone rang for me again. It was 
the Pasteur Institute technician from Brazzaville. My gorilla had 
died that morning at 7.15. An autopsy had been carried out but 
nothing had been found to account for the animal's death. My 
technician friend seemed embarrassed. I thanked him as well as I 
could for all his trouble and asked him how the other five were. 
Rather hesitantly he said that they were all right, and when did I 
plan to take them away from the farm? I replied that in a day or 
two at the latest I would be coming to collect them to ship them 
down to Matadi. That same afternoon one of the boys who fed the 
gorillas at the camp mentioned casually to me that a couple of them 
seemed to be off their food at the mid-day meal The nightmare had 
begun in earnest. 

The worst thing about it all was that I felt so responsible for 
these animals. I had organised a 10,000 mile expedition to deprive 
them of their freedom and all it seemed that I could offer them in 
return was this silent death. I had been so near to getting them all 
safely back to the United States. The dangers, the hardships were 
behind me but now with success so close it looked as though I was 
to be beaten by the one thing I had never taken into account. 

The one awful thing about the disease was die unhurried way it 
began picking off the animals. It was almost as if someone had 
found a way of destroying my gorillas and was patiently doing so in 
ones and twos to prolong the agony. 

The symptoms and die course of the illness never varied. The 



pair that had sickened that lunch-time grew steadily worse and were 
dead within forty-eight hours. Not a single gorilla that caught it 
survived, but until die moment the disease struck it would be as 
healthy and unconcerned as any animals I had ever seen. 

I did what I could to find out about the disease. I carried out 
minute autopsies myself on each animal, but there was never much 
to show. I called in the help of the Pasteur Institute in Brazzaville, 
and of the Prince Leopold Institute in Leopoldviile; they carried out 
endless tests on the dead animals but even they were defeated. 

At the institute I begged the director to allow more research to 
go on in the hope of finding some cure before it was too kte. He 
was a kindly man although he was badly understaffed at the time 
and had many things to think about besides gorillas. He shrugged 
his shoulders. 

"I'm sorry for you and your gorillas/' he said. " Believe me 
I'm sorry, but we've gone as far as we possibly can. We've found 
out something. It's a virus disease they're dying of. We've elimin- 
ated all the other possibilities." 

"But what virus?" I asked. 

Again he shrugged his shoulders. "If we had the latest equip- 
ment they have in London, or New York if we had a fully trained 
research team to spare for a couple of years and if we had a lot of 
luck we might be able to tell you after two or three years of hard 

Within six days the death roll stood at sixteen, and I had given 
up hope. I had come to Africa as a collector. It looked as if I would 
be leaving it as an undertaker. I was getting no sleep, as the animals 
needed nursing and most of the time there was no one else to do it; 
on top of everything else the people in Leopoldviile had started to 
turn against me. The rumour spread that I had brought disease into 
the town. Insults were shouted at Zinga and Joseph and I found it 
more difficult than ever to get supplies for the animals. 

I hardly know what I would have done if the railway had not 
chosen this moment to discover that it had some empty wagons on 
its next train down to Matadi. We still had fourteen gorillas alive; 
I got them all aboard that night. 

In Matadi there was the same trouble I had had at Brazzaville. 



Everyone was suspicious of us and it seemed impossible to find any- 
where to camp. Finally some Swedish missionaries took pity on us 
and allowed us to camp in the back of their garden while we waited 
for a ship back to the United States. 

But the U-boats were busier than ever in the Atlantic by now 
and a ship never came. The one thing in the whole of Matadi that 
never waited was the disease. On it went, steadily, neither increasing 
nor decreasing, and still there was no animal that caught it that ever 

The' people turned completely against us too, just as they had in 
Brazzaville. Without the missionaries I cannot think what I would 
have done. Our pathetic camp at the bottom of the garden was soon 
like something in a siege. Each week the survivors were a few less. 

Each day I would visit the docks. Occasionally there would be a 
boat and my hopes would rise, but it was never going to America. 

Finally, the last of the gorillas died. By a strange chance this 
was the youngest of them all, the baby I had first seen on the day of 
its birth and that had been nursed for me in Chief Bamboo's family. 
Ever since the outbreak of the disease in Brazzaville, 1 had kept it in 
my own room, trying to isolate it from the rest. To the last 1 thought 
I might have succeeded. 

A three-month- old gorilla can be very appealing, especially 
when you have lived with it as closely as 1 had with this. His death 
upset me more than I would have thought possible. 

By now everything about Matadi and about the expedition was 
odious to me. The very place seemed implicated in the death of my 
animals and all I could think of was how to get away and back to 
the States as quickly as I could. The attempt to form a collection of 
gorillas had ended in disaster. My only consolation lay in the 
unique film I had shot. 

With supreme irony, exactly two days after my last gorilla died 
a freighter docked at Matadi. Her name was the Tamesis, she was 
registered in New York, and she was bound for Boston. 

The Tamesis was a slow ship and in the mood I was in I was confi- 
dent that I could hitch-hike back to America by air very much 
quicker than if 1 relied on her. My own problem in trying to go 



back all the way by air was that I now had nearly a hundred pounds 
of baggage. Apart from the camera and the completed film, there 
was a pile of diaries and notebooks I had kept during the expedition 
along with a mass of photographs and scientific data on the disease 
that had killed the gorillas. 

I felt I could hardly leave these behind, and so, when I discovered 
that an American priest from Leopoldville was travelling back to the 
States aboard the Tamesisl asked him whether he would mind taking 
charge of my belongings. He was kind enough to agree and the 
following day I said good-bye to Joseph and Zinga and the Swedish 
missionaries, and caught a train up to Leopoldville. 

As I had no baggage at all, I found little difficulty in hitch- 
hiking back the way I had originally come. There was an army 
Dakota flying up to Liberia, and from there I took a clipper to Brazil 
and army planes again to Miami and on to New York. I was in 
New York again in the autumn, just as I had been the year before, 
and without realising the coincidence, booked in at the same hotel 
overlooking Centra) Park where I had been staying when I met 
Rainez, the Brazilian gold prospector, and heard die first story of 
the gorillas of French Equatorial Africa. 

I waited anxiously for news of the Tamesis, for now that I was 
back in New York I felt that the film I had made of the gorillas 
might still provide something of a justification for my disastrous 
expedition. It could not bring my gorillas back to life, but it was a 
unique film and could have covered the expenses of my expedition 
many times over. 

But the Tamesis never did arrive in Boston. She was involved 
in a collision just off Bermuda, and sank without loss of life. I met 
the American missionary a few weeks later. He apologised about 
losing the film. 


19 Okapi 

IT was to be four long years before I saw a gorilla in the wild 
again. I had to spend my time in Miami, struggling to keep my 
colony of chimpanzees together. I soon realised that the only 
research anyone was now interested in for chimpanzees was the one 
sort I would never agree to. 

From the start I had made it plain that my chimpanzees were to 
be used solely for painless research into immunology and psychology 
but as the war progressed the authorities began to appreciate that a 
chimpanzee was a useful double for a human being when it came to 
testing out any particularly hazardous piece of equipment. In in- 
creasing numbers chimpanzees were now being used in ways that 
were to culminate in their pioneer rocket flights for the American 
government's space programme. I knew that sooner or later I 
would be asked to allow my animals to be used in this way, and 
that my refusal would place me in a very difficult position. Rather 
than run this risk I finally decided to discontinue the entire project. 
It was a hard decision to take as I had known the animals so long. 
Many of them, like Mugwump and Katie were almost personal 
friends but I could see no way out and finally they were all sent to the 
safety of a new anthropoid ape farm at Lake Wales in Florida. I 
could be sure that there they would be in good hands. 

After this there was nothing else to keep me in America and I 
spent every spare moment I possessed planning my return to Africa. 
But even with the end of the war it was still virtually impossible to 
get together another expedition. Passages to Africa were restricted. 
Cameras and film were in short supply and although I found no 
difficulty getting the backing of RKO for another full-length film 



on Africa it was not until the spring of 1946 that I had assembled the 
equipment and personnel I needed and was ready to start 

My plans were ambitious. They included what were to be my 
third and fourth overland crossings of Africa. I have always liked 
these long drives across continents and I now intended to make up 
for the four years I had been away. I had been starved of travel so 
long that all I could think of was how to cram as much as I could 
into the precious time at my disposal. I wanted to see what had hap- 
pened to the Africa I knew and I planned my route accordingly. I 
wanted to see the elephants again in the savannah country north of 
Stanleyville. Then there were the pygmies of the Ituri Forest and 
Pat Putnam if he was still alive, whilst from Putnam's Camp it 
would be possible to strike farther east to the East African plains 
that I had seen in their splendour with Al Klein six years earlier. 

Our plane landed at Leopoldviile, and we went by train to Matadi 
to pick up our trucks and cars. It was uncanny how little Matadi had 
changed. The docks were just as I remembered them. The garden 
behind the Swedish mission was exactly as it had been when I had 
made my camp there and watched my gorillas die. Even Brazzaville 
seemed virtually untouched by the war and as we jolted our way 
up the Grande Route du Nord I kept asking myself how long this 
miraculous immunity to change would last. 

I found my answer when I reached the village of Oka and Chief 
Bamboo came out to greet us in person. He was even more out- 
rageously dressed than when I had seen him last, with boots and 
gaiters and the tattered remains of a Norfolk jacket. 

"You're still hunting your gorillas?" I asked him, as I shook 
hands with his claw-like hand with its two remaining fingers. 

"Of course," he said, grinning and patting the barrel of a large 
shotgun he had somehow acquired since 1 saw him last. "We have 
killed many since you were here last." 

"But are there as many gorillas as ever in the forests?" I asked, 
thinking of the unknown disease that had carried off my gorillas so 

He nodded and grinned again. " You can see for yourself. 
Come with us when we hunt to-morrow. There are always gorillas 
to be caught. We will capture as many for you as you want." 



I explained that this time I did not want to capture gorillas, only 
to film them, and during the days that followed I discovered that what 
old Bamboo said was literally true. Whatever the disease was it was 
obviously one that occurred only when the gorillas came in contact 
with human beings. Luckily the animals were too widely scattered 
and the whole area too inaccessible for this contact to be very 
frequent. Apart from Bamboo's tribe, the Africans themselves 
preferred to leave gorillas strictly alone and I realised on this trip 
that the animals occurred across an even wider area than I had 
previously suspected. As we drove we found their tracks in many 
places across this little known savannah country and after the exper- 
ience I had had of the gorilla disease, I was relieved to find that the 
forest gorilla was as plentiful as ever. 

Although a so-called guest-house had been built in Bamboo's 
village since my last visit, the whole place was still as poor and 
broken-down as ever. The thatch of the guest-house roof had already 
acquired several large holes and we all slept rolled up in our blankets 
on the hard mud floor. Because of this, none of us was sorry when 
we finished our filming and were able to get on the move again, 
driving south-east through die Congo that had provided such a rich 
and happy part of my life. 

Again the changes I had feared among the animals did not seem 
to have occurred and despite my anxiety we were able to film the 
leopards and elephants and monkeys of the Congo as freely as the 
last time I had been there. Where I did find the signs of change was 
among ihe people I met. We visited my old friends the Watusi, the 
giant race of Ruanda and found them in a sad state of decline. 
There was their king for instance. The first time I had met him had 
been before the war and he had been easily the most impressive 
monarch I had ever set eyes on. Nearly seven feet tall in his brightly 
coloured robes of state, he had received me surrounded by his 
ministers in the remarkable palace of plaited straw where he lived 
on the outskirts of his capital. 

Now he drove out to meet me in his latest model Chevrolet. 
In his grey pinstripe suit he was not quite the man I remembered 
and he drove me back for drinks at the Ostend-style villa the Belgian 
administration had helped him build. His old palace with its 



symmetry and decoration and great beauty had gone. When I 
mentioned it the king looked embarrassed. It was almost as if I 
had mentioned an unsavoury episode from the past, and he shrugged 
his shoulders quickly "Le progres, Monsieur Denis . . . le progres. 
Il faut accepter le progres!' 

As I found out as soon as I tried filming the Watusi, it was not 
only their appearance that le progres had altered since I had been 
there last. When I persuaded them to put on their tribal dress and 
practise their war dances again I found that all their most impressive 
warriors were comparatively old men. There were young men there, 
but they had nothing like the height or physique of their fathers. 
The old men would all seem to be nearly seven feet tall, but the 
young ones would be six or eight inches shorter. And just as the 
Watusi were declining in stature, so it seemed to me that they were 
declining in their consciousness of themselves as a race. They no 
longer cared for their tribe as they used to. The king was losing his 
power, the elders their authority. The old arts were no longer 
practised and the young men were marrying outside their own 
people. Within a few years one more unique part of old Africa 
would have been merged and forgotten. That same progress I had 
seen and hated a quarter of a century before in Bali was here in 
Africa. Like Bali, Africa was yielding to it, and as in Bali it was 
destroying everything that gave the country its character, its 
colour, its culture and its charm. 

There was one race where I thought this could never happen 
among the pygmies of the forest but even when we drove through 
the Ituri Forest to visit Putnam's Camp again we still found our 
evidence of le progres. As we drove along the road from Irumu to- 
wards the camp a tiny figure in a tattered European suit and a brown 
fedora appeared from nowhere and raced alongside our truck. 

"Me pygmy, me pygmy," he shouted in English as we slowed 
down to see what he wanted. "You take picture. Me pygmy. Ten 

Putnam himself was still there, as defiantly resistant to change as 
ever, and I was relieved to see that his camp was almost exactly as I 
remembered it. The museum was there, still heavily padlocked in 
case any unwelcome visitor attempted an unauthorised peep at its 



bizarre exhibits. The swimming pool was still waiting to b< 
finished and the hotel looked more than ever like something thai 
had grown spontaneously out of the very depths of the forest. 

He greeted me absent-mindedly. 

"Hallo/* he said. "Where have you been?" 

I tried explaining that I had been in America because of the war. 
but he hardly seemed to hear what I "was saying. 

"There's so much to do, in a place like this," he grumbled, 
"That's what people like you won't realise. You just drop in and 
think everything's ready for you at a moment's notice." 

I tried saying something about not needing a room, but he was 
not listening and a few moments kter he pointed to one of the huts, 

"There," he said. "That should do you. No one's slept in it foi 
three or four years, but if you care to use it you can stay as long as 
you like." 

In the end we stayed nearly a fortnight at Putnam's Camp, and ] 
soon realised that the years he had spent in the Congo Forest, vir- 
tually isolated during the war, had left their mark on him after all. 
The restless interest in everything and everyone that I remembered 
so well seemed to have gone. His disappearances into the forest were 
more frequent and there were long periods when the only people 
he would have anything to do with at all were the pygmies. 

One thing that had not changed about him was his passion for 
animals. It was almost as if they were taking the places of the 
human visitors who no longer came and he allowed his chimpanzees 
and antelope to roam the camp on terms of complete equality 
with himself. Naturally ail this appealed to me greatly, but there 
was one animal above all that Pat Putnam possessed that I found 
particularly exciting. This was an okapi. 

Putnam was very proud of it and with some cause. For the 
okapi is one of the strangest and most elusive animals Africa possesses. 
It is a great curiosity, a sort of living fossil related partly to the giraffe 
and also to an animal called a samotherium that roamed Europe 
during the lower pliocene period. For me it held the added interest 
of being the last important animal to be discovered in Africa. 
Before nineteen hundred there had been highly coloured reports 
about this strange animal lurking in the depths of the Semliki 


''There was one animal above all which Putnam possessed that I found 
particularly exciting. This was an Qkapi" 

Hippo in a river are among the most difficult of all animals 

to film satisfactorily" 

Ajacana pirouettes on the hack of a hippo 

The first stave ofcavturine a giraffe 

After it is successfully lassoed the giraffe is hooded for the placing of the harness 

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The giraffe arrives in its temporary enclosure 

The author with a laby jumping hare 


Forest between Lake Albert and Lake Edward. Native belts 
would be brought back to Europe made of the skin of this 
legendary animal that was still unknown to science and it was not 
until 1902 that the famous consul general Sir Harry Johnston finally 
solved the mystery and obtained the first correct description of 
the okapi. 

At first everyone assumed that the okapi was extremely rare, 
and they were placed under the most rigid protection by the 
Belgian government. Then it gradually appeared that they were 
not so much rare as virtually uncatchable. Far from being in any 
danger of extermination they occur over a huge area of the Congo 
Forest but being shy, nocturnal and superbly camouflaged with 
their chestnut skin and black and white stripes they are hardly ever 
seen in the wild. Normally the pygmies are the only people who 
catch sight of them and it was of course the pygmies who had 
brought Putnam the okapi I saw him feeding now. 

They are delicate creatures although they have a kick to them 
that could easily kill a man, but Putnam had a way with animals 
and as I watched him offering the animal the tender leaves it normally 
lived on in the forest I could admire its great brown eyes, and the 
long, remarkably sensitive tongue it used for gathering the foliage. 

I asked Putnam whether he often had these animals brought to 
him like this. 

"Sometimes," he said. "I've had one or two in my time. I've 
managed to persuade the pygmies that if they catch an okapi in their 
nets they should bring it to me. I have to hand it over to the Belgian 
authorities in the end for they've a monopoly of all the okapis 
caught in the Congo, but at least it saves the animal's life and the 
Belgians usually let me keep it until it's used to being fed by hand." 

"It looks as if you're taking over where Brother Joseph left off," 
I said. 

He looked at me and laughed. His beard was white now but 
when he did laugh he looked splendid, like some Old Testament pro- 
phet enjoying a good joke. "Oh, you knew Brother Joseph, did 
you? It's a bit hard on the old boy's memory comparing him with 
someone like me. Besides, I could never handle an okapi as well as 
Brother Joseph." 



This was certainly true, for Brother Joseph Hutsebaut, by a 
strange quirk of fate, had been the greatest practical expert on the 
okapi that Africa had ever known. I had met him before the war 
at the large Catholic mission at Buta where he lived most of his life 
as a simple lay brother. By then Brother Joseph was a man of some 
age and his fame had been considerable. Naturalists from all over 
the world would make a point of visiting Buta especially to see him, 
but Brother Joseph had remained entirely unimpressed by his fame 
and never pretended to be anything but the simple Flemish peasant 
God had made him. 

He had come to Buta originally to look after the vegetable 
garden. His lack of education had made him unable to become 
ordained as a priest, but one day some Africans had brought him a 
baby elephant that had been orphaned and he had looked after it 
with all the skill he had picked up with the animals on his father's 
farm in Belgium. The elephant was only a start. From then on when 
anyone for miles around found an animal in need of care they 
brought it to Brother Joseph. One day he was brought a young okapi. 
He had never seen one before, but since it was one of God's creatures 
he looked after it and the animal flourished. News of it finally 
reached the Belgian authorities at Stanleyville. By chance this co- 
incided with a period of extreme official interest in okapis. They 
were still virtually unknown outside Africa and the King of the 
Belgians was anxious to acquire one that he could present as a gift 
to some foreign monarch visiting Brussels on a State visit. Brother 
Joseph's okapi was duly commandeered and shipped off to Belgium. 
From then on whenever the king wanted an okapi the governor at 
Stanleyville would be instructed to contact Brother Joseph, and 
Brother Joseph, anxious to oblige his king, began to encourage the 
local Africans to capture them for him. 

At once this brought them into conflict with the strict game laws 
that had been enacted to protect the okapis and Brother Joseph 
found himself in the middle of an absurd situation. One week he 
would hear that two Africans had been arrested for trying to catch 
an okapi for him. The next he would have the authorities at Stanley- 
ville saying desperately, "The king has asked us for another okapi. 
Get us one for him at all costs." It was hardly surprising that the 



poor lay brother became a little tired of these duties that were being 
tlirust upon him, and when I saw him I remember him complaining 
to me in his thick Flemish accent, "I never wanted any of this. I 
didn't come to the Congo to catch okapi. I came to worship God." 

But however much he complained, he had a great gift for tend- 
ing animals and it was through this legendary old lay brother from 
the mission at Buta that most of the early specimens of okapi were 
brought out of the great Congo Forest alive. 

Putnam and I chatted about him for some while. "You know 
who's catching okapi for the Belgian government now?" he said. 


tf De Medina," he said "You remember him. He used to be an 
elephant hunter. Well he's given that up now, and the Belgians 
have appointed him official custodian of okapi for the whole of the 
Congo. He's living at a village called Banalia, about three hundred 
miles west from here on the other side of the forest." 

"How does he catch them?" I asked. 

"Well, he's trapping them in pits. I don't know how he does it 
but he's supposed to be quite successful at it. Last I heard of him he 
had caught seven or eight and was looking after them on behalf of 
the government." 

As soon as I heard this I determined to find de Medina. I was 
not entirely surprised to hear the news about him. He was half 
Portuguese, half African and I had got to know him on my previous 
trip to the Congo when he had been a freelance guide and hunter, 
only too eager to be of any assistance to the foreign visitors coming 
to the Congo in search of wild animals. If he really was catching 
okapi now on the scale Putnam said, he would certainly be well 
worth filming. 

The journey to his village took longer than I expected; we spent 
two days driving across the great forest area east of Stanleyville. 
This forest, of course, was the home of the okapi. We were always 
hopefully on the lookout for one, but there was really no chance of 
seeing so shy a creature in this dense tropical forest and I could under- 
stand how the okapi had avoided discovery so long. 

When we found it, de Medina's village turned out to be exactly 
like all the other small African villages on the edge of the forest and 



there was nothing to distinguish it as the home of the official 
Conservateur des Okapis for the whole of the Congo. But de Medina 
was obviously taking his job seriously. He was wearing an official- 
looking peaked cap when he came out to greet us and I soon saw 
that Putnam had been right. Neatly corralled at the back of the 
house were no less than eight adult okapis probably the largest 
group of these animals that had ever been brought together in one 

De Medina had put on weight since I had seen him last; he 
had an African wife and an immense family swarming all over his 
house. But he was as energetic and enthusiastic as ever. He invited 
us in, produced an enormous bottle of gin for us, and proceeded 
to talk non-stop about okapi. 

"Never try catching okapi for a living," he said. "I don't mind 
leopards or lions or even elephants, but these okapi are quite im- 

"You seem to be doing all right with them," I replied, pointing 
across the yard to the animals he had caught. 

"Those," he said. "Do you know how long it took me to 
capture those eight okapi ? More than six months. At the moment 
I've nearly two hundred pits dug in different parts of the forest. We 
catch everything in them except okapi. 

"I'll tell you what happens," he went on. "We dig our pit and 
cover it with leaves and earth so that not even you would know there 
was anything there. But the okapi is suspicious. He won't go near 
and while he is keeping clear of it a little water gets in the bottom 
and a bull-frog or two get inside. Then the next night the okapi 
comes near he hears the wretched frogs and they tell him all he 
wants to know. That's another okapi we don't catch." 

Despite de Medina's pessimism, we were luckier than I had 
expected and while we were there two okapi were actually caught. 
This was a great event. It was also the signal for the entire village to 
turn out and assist m the hazardous business of bringing two fully 
grown okapi unharmed from the pits to the safety of de Medina's 
corral. We went with the crowd of villagers who swarmed out 
into the forest to see what had been caught but the actual pits were 
harder to reach than I had thought. We followed a track of sorts for 



three or four miles into the forest and then struck off to the left, 
forcing our way through the undergrowth guided solely by the 
shouts of de Medina's men who were already guarding the pit 

It was only then that I understood the difficulties de Medina was 
up against in trapping his okapis. For these pits of his were sited in 
the densest parts of the forest and the work of visiting them and 
keeping them in repair must have been formidable. De Medina was 
there already when we arrived, still wearing his peaked cap the 
government had given him and desperately trying to organise the 
crowd of helpers that seemed to grow every minute. 

Several of his men were already digging away at one end of the 
pit so as to make a ramp up which the okapi could be driven. 
Cautiously holding on to a nearby branch I tried to peer down 
through the hole the animal had made as it fell into the trap. It was 
dark inside, but I could just make out the long neck of the okapi with 
its black and white markings. I could hear it shuffling as it 
tried to find a way out. 

"Careful," shouted de Medina, when he saw what I was doing. 
"If you fall in with the okapi there won't be much of you left by 
the time we pull you out." 

"How are you going to get the animal out anyhow?" I asked. 

"Oh, you have to be patient," he said. "First we must dig our 
ramp, but even when we've finished that we must still get the animal 
down to the pathway for the truck to come and pick it up." 

"How do you do that ?" I asked. 

"That's always what takes the time," he said. "We have to clear 
a path and fence it in both sides so that we can drive the animal, 
otherwise it would be sure to escape." 

By this time de Medina's villagers were working away at this 
too, laboriously hacking at the undergrowth, and weaving the vines 
and branches into a tough double line of fencing that would have to 
stretch nearly half a mile down to the path. 

It seemed a lot of effort, even to catch an okapi so I asked de 
Medina why he did not try backing his truck up to the pit. 

"We'd never do it," he said. "The forest is far too thick to allow 
any truck through." 

"Why not try mine?" I replied. "It's got a four-wheel drive. 



I'm sure it would save you hours of work." But for some reason de 
Medina would not hear of it, and when I went off with him to find 
his second okapi we left half the village behind us digging and hack- 
ing away. 

The second pit was even more inaccessible than the first had been 
and by now I was seriously worried for the animal that was in it. It 
must have been inside nearly twelve hours already. At the rate de 
Medina's men were moving, I could see it would be the following 
day before they tunnelled their way through to it. So again 1 sug- 
gested using our four-wheel drive to try reaching it. 

De Medina was obviously getting tired of my advice by now. 
"All right," he said, "try it if you like, but I'm going back to super- 
vise the first pit. See you this evening." 

It took more than an hour to get back to the village and I man- 
aged to pick up several of de Medina's men on the way, so that I had 
all the guides and assistance I needed when I drove back towards the 
trapped okapi. At first 1 thought de Medina was going to be right 
about the forest and for a while we could make no headway at all 
once we left the path. But gradually, by pushing and reversing and 
then pushing forward again in bottom gear we managed to inch our 
way forward. Occasionally we had to chop the vines and under- 
growth away from the front of the truck but we made it far quicker 
than I had thought possible and after much slithering and grinding 
of gears I managed to back the truck a few yards from the end of the 

There was no sound by now from the imprisoned animal. This 
pit was deeper than the other had been, so that it was difficult to 
make out what had happened to the okapi. I knew it was there 
because I could just make out its shape in one corner of the pit, but 
all the time we were digging the ramp it never moved and I was 
half afraid that by the time we were ready to bring it out we might 
find it had injured itself or even died. 

By now it was midday. It was hot. We had worked hard, and 
the flies and midges were swarming around us. But there was no 
question of stopping. The only way we would find out about the 
okapi now was to have all our preparations complete so that we 
could try coaxing it up the ramp and into the truck. To do this meant 



fencing in the sides of the ramp, and building the earth right up to the 
tail-board. It was this that took die time. 

Finally we were ready and pulled the branches away that had 
shut off the end of the pit from the ramp. Still the okapi did not 
move. So we shouted, trying , to frighten the animal up into the 
truck. There was still no reaction. At this I was convinced that the 
animal really was injured and that one of us would have to go into 
the pit and see what had happened. But fortunately, one of de 
Medina's men had had more experience of okapi than I had. 

"He's all right/' he said. "He is just a little frightened. He's not 
used to people yet. Leave him and see what happens." 

So we, all moved away from the pit and sat waiting silently in the 
strange gloom of the Congo Forest. For ten minutes or more noth- 
ing happened. There was only the buzzing of the insects and the 
occasional shriek of a monkey from the tangle of branches high 
above. Then I saw a faint movement from the edge of the pit. Two 
delicately shaped ears appeared. The head followed, eyes wide open, 
nostrils sniffing suspiciously. Then slowly, delicately, this most 
beautiful of animals emerged and stood, undecided, on the ramp we 
had built. 

The rest was easy. As soon as we got behind it, the okapi ran up 
the ramp of its own accord and I was glad that we were able to get it 
safely back to de Medina's house without causing it any furdier 
distress. I felt doubly pleased with myself when a very tired de 
Medina returned that evening with his okapi, only to find mine 
akeady settled quite happily in the corral. 

Although the okapi is so timid in the wild, he becomes surpris- 
ingly tame in captivity and I found these animals of de Medina's a 
source of constant delight. I was particularly interested in the okapi 
we had brought in ourselves and stayed on for several days to film 
him and watch how he adapted to civilisation. 

I found him a temperamental animal. He was very highly 
strung and would go off his food if the slightest thing upset him. I 
would also be careful never to get behind him as I distrusted the 
power that he certainly had in his hooves. But he soon grew to 
recognise me. I would bring him his favourite leaves from the forest 
and when I fed him he would never attempt to bite. He would 


recognise people more by their smell than by their appearance and 
I found that like many short-furred animals, he was particularly 
fond of having his neck and shoulders stroked with a stiff brush. 
After I had been at the camp a few days, my okapi would wait for 
me every morning by the side of the corral and refuse to budge 
until I had given him his morning brush down. 

Apart from actually catching the okapis, de Medina's biggest 
problem was to adapt them sufficiently to civilisation to allow them 
to survive the journey down to the coast and on to the zoos where 
most of them would finally live. To do this he had to slowly change 
their diet from the leaves and vegetation of the forest, to the sort of 
food that could be obtained in Europe and America. But again I 
was surprised at how quickly the okapis could be persuaded to eat 
hay. Brother Joseph had found that it was unsafe to allow okapi in 
captivity to pick up food from the floor as they quickly infected them- 
selves with their own droppings, and de Medina used to follow his 
practice of placing the bales of hay in a rack three or four feet above 
the ground. 

Because of this the okapi could eat quite easily but I was never 
able to get an adequate film of the animal's magnificent tongue in 
action. For their tongues are very long and in the wild they use 
them for gathering leaves from the trees. I tried countless ways of 
filming them, even going as far as to place a dab of honey on the 
shoulder of my okapi when I had finished grooming him in the 
morning. I knew that he loved anything sweet, and hoped that he 
would turn his head and lick the honey off. But not even this would 
work, and to this day I have never managed to film, as dramatically 
as I would like, the tongue of an okapi. 


2O Savage Splendour 

I HAD always thought of the huge plains of East Africa as the 
most exciting game area in the world. I had seen them last in 
1940, teeming with their herds of buffalo and zebra, wildebeeste, 
gazelle and giraffe, and now, six years later, I could hardly wait to 
return. I had been saving this part of Africa as the climax of my 
film, and finally decided we would have to say good-bye to de 
Medina and his okapi and begin our thousand mile drive from the 
Congo across to Kenya. 

It was an impressive journey, with the landscape constantly 
changing as we wound our way up from the Congo Forest, descend- 
ed the escarpment to cross the plains of Rwindi, and then climbed 
again through the hilly country beyond Rutshuru to Uganda and 
the shores of Lake Victoria. But there were few animals to see and 
as we drove I kept preparing in my mind's eye the sort of scenes I 
was hoping to shoot once we reached the big herds. 

"You wait," I told my assistant, who was growing tired of film- 
ing nothing but scenery. "Soon you won't have enough film in 
your cameras for all the animals you'll be seeing." 

We skirted the southern shores of Lake Victoria and headed east. 
This was the edge of the country I remembered, but the game never 
seemed to turn up. "We reached the great depression of the Rift 
Valley, which had always boasted the richest wild life of all, yet 
even there there was hardly anything to see apart from a few lonely 
zebra and Thomson's gazelle plucking nervously at the grass. 

I had no idea what could have happened and we drove slowly 
down the valley searching for the herds that had been here only six 
years before. We searched in vain. Occasionally we would find 
three or four giraffe or half a dozen ostriches, but this would be in 



places where I remembered watching scattered herds stretching as 
far as the eye could see. 

Now there was nothing but emptiness and silence. The very life 
had gone from the country, and the animals we saw were nothing 
but the survivors of some massive disaster. 

There was nothing to film so we headed for Nairobi and on the 
final lap of the journey towards the city, I halted the trucks half- 
way up the Rift escarpment to take one last look back at the lifeless 
floor of the valley. An elderly settler had chosen the same place to 
stop to allow the steaming radiator of his overloaded van to cool off. 
I saw him looking once or twice in my direction, and just as I was 
about to start off again he called out my name. I did not recognise 
him until he came over to the cab and introduced himself. 

"I met you in 1940," he said. "You were with Al Klein. The 
two of you stayed a couple of nights at my farm on Kinankop." 

I remembered him then. He had been most hospitable to us 
although his farm had been very small and very cold, nine or ten 
thousand feet up in the Aberdares. He was a short, rather quiet 
man and was still puffing at die same bnar pipe that 1 remembered 
when I had seen him last. 

"Pity about Klein," he said. "Pity he died so suddenly." 

"Perhaps it was as well," 1 said. "It would have broken his heart 
if he'd seen Kenya in the state it is to-day." 

"You mean the game," said the old man. "Not so good, is it? 
Still, what do you expect? There's been a war." 

"What's that had to do with it? There's been no fighting in 

"No," he replied, "no fighting, but plenty of shooting.'* 

"What sort oi shooting?" 

He took his pipe from his mouth. "Well, you know how it is 
when you get a lot of troops in a place like this. They soon get 
bored. They've got plenty of guns and ammunition and the valley's 
full of game. The boys are only human/* 

"But a bit of shooting wouldn't account for the state die valley's 
in to-day. Just look at it." 

"Well, it wasn't iust a bit of shooting. It was rather a lot of 
shooting. You see, many of die lads had never seen a wild animal 



before outside a zoo. Most of the game wardens were away at the 
war themselves and there was no one to stop them doing as they 

I asked just what they did do. 

"There was quite a bit of machine-gunning of buck and zebra. 
You can do a lot of damage to a herd of zebra with one bren gun. 
Then there were the giraffe, of course. Anyone can get a giraffe 
with a service rifle and an ostrich too for that matter. The troops 
were here nearly four years and the game doesn't last for ever." 

From die people I met later in Nairobi, I learned that the shoot- 
ing the troops did was only part of the story. The damage they had 
done had been followed by something more organised and equally 
unforgivable. After the campaigns to the north of Kenya's borders 
in Ethiopia and Somaliland, the country had been used as a detention 
centre for many thousands of Italian prisoners of war. The Italians 
had to be fed, and purely in the interests of economy some inspired 
bureaucrat had decided that the best way of supplying them with 
meat was to feed diem game. 

For anyone with the instinct for really large-scale butchery, this 
offered the chance of a lifetime. The techniques of mass production 
could be applied to the simple business of killing. European con- 
tractors hired gangs of Africans and issued them with rifles to shoot 
down buffalo, a hundred head at a time. The slaughter went on for 
many months until nothing but the remnants of East Africa's game 
were left, and those only in the most inaccessible country. 

Even in the still relatively unfrequented area of the Serengeti 
which we visited a few weeks later there was evidence of the most 
savage destruction of wild life. You may not be able to feed 
Italian prisoners on lion meat, but the sportsmen had come here 
with their rifles and blazed away at the lions for the fun of it. Until 
then the Serengeti lions had rarely been hunted and they must have 
made sitting targets. 

More serious still, from a long-term view, was the rapid erosion 
of natural resources right across East Africa. Wood had been needed 
during the war, so great chunks of forest had simply disappeared. 
Because of the overriding urgency of war, nothing had been done 
to repair the damage, and in those five years the habitat oi the 



animals had suffered more seriously than in twenty-five years of 
normal evolution. 

With the ending of the war, the whole idea of normal evolution 
in this part of Africa had vanished anyhow. Peace had brought an 
explosion of development to East Africa. Huge areas of bush were 
being cleared. More and still more areas of forest were being felled. 
Migrants were flooding in and clearing the land and everywhere 
roads were being cut and farms established. Suddenly it seemed as if 
everything was converging to bring about the doom of East Africa's 
wild life. 

At first I was so depressed at what we found that I thought there 
was no point in going on with my film. What I had thought of as 
the climax of my journey looked like becoming its epitaph. But I 
stayed on in Kenya for some months and began to realise that this 
threat to wild life made work by people like myself more important 
than ever. If there was to be any real hope of preserving what was 
left of East Africa's game, public opinion outside Africa had to be 
told what was happening and I knew that there should be some way 
of using films like ours for this purpose. 

Of course, there was no chance of using the commercial cinema 
for the sort of propaganda for animal conservation that I was to 
put on television a few years later. If a film was to sell, it had to be 
first and foremost entertainment and it took me some time to find 
a theme that would combine all the excitement that the film com- 
panies would expect with something of relevance to the plight of 
die animals. Finally I found the subject I was looking for in the 
way that wild animals were being captured alive. The result was 
my film, "Savage Splendour." 

Ever since I had directed Frank Buck's "Wild Cargo," I had 
been unhappy about the way the vast majority of animals were being 
captured for zoos. To me this presented a virtually insoluble di- 
lemma. I believed, and still strongly believe, in the value of zoos. 
They are essential to the study of animals and they give young people 
the chance they must have of seeing what animals are really like. 
For me it would be as inconceivable to allow a child to grow up 
without seeing a lion or a rhinoceros as to prevent him seeing a green 
field or a seashore. 



On the other hand, I know something of the cruelty that all too 
often goes on in the bringing of animals out of the wild into cap- 
tivity. I had seen young orang-utans captured in Sumatra by chop- 
ping down the trees where they lived, shooting the mothers and 
then keeping the young drugged on opium for days on end while 
they were being smuggled out of the country. With some of the 
big game animals methods of capture seemed even crueller and more 
wasteful This was particularly so with the rhinoceros. For a long 
time, virtually the only way of catching a young rhino for a zoo was 
to shoot the mother and hope that the young animal would be hardy 
enough to survive the journey to civilisation. 

I had always thought this barbarous and wasteful. On the 
average, as many as four rhinos would be sacrificed to get one 
safely to its destination and while I was in Kenya I began to wonder 
if I could devise a way of capturing rhinos without this steady toll. 

The chief problem was die mother rhino. Her highly aggres- 
sive maternal instincts are more than matched by her sheer strength; 
after I had seen a three-ton lorry tipped over bodily by one irate 
female and had had one of my own tyres wrenched off by another, 
I realised that they were not to be trifled with. For even if you 
managed to separate a mother from her young she would always 
come back in the end and determinedly charge anyone or anything 
she saw trying to interfere with her offspring. 

I discussed all this with several professional big game trappers 
and all of them seemed to agree that however much of a pity it 
might be, the only really practical way of capturing a young rhino 
was still to shoot its mother. 

"But have you never tried lassoing the mother?" I asked one of 
them. "It should be perfectly easy to get a noose over her head and 
provided you used a good strong rope you could surely stop her 
breaking away." 

"You could stop her breaking away all right," replied the 
trapper, "but you couldn't stop her breaking into your truck. If 
you tried lassoing a mother rhino from a truck, she would just 
smash it to pieces." 

He was obviously quite right. Straightforward lassoing from a 
moving vehicle was impractical. But the more 1 thought about it, 



the more convinced I became that there must be some way of 
getting a lasso over a rhino's head and of rendering your rhino 
harmless without having your truck smashed in the process. 
Finally I had an idea. 

The theory was simple. We would try lassoing our rhino, but 
we would leave the back of our truck open. Inside there would be 
a length of heavy log and the end of our lasso would be securely 
tied to it, so that once the noose was over the rhino's head, the log 
would be pulled out and immediately slow the rhino down. Then, 
if my plan worked, the truck could drive away, and wait until the 
rhino had grown tired of struggling with the log. 

If necessary, this would be the time to repeat the lassoing with 
yet another log. It should be easier this time as the rhino would have 
slowed down considerably and once we actually had two nooses on 
her, her capture should be almost complete. For I knew that then 
five or six men on foot could grab at the ropes, hold her secure and 
tie her legs until we wanted to free her again. 

That was the theory and I knew that if I could make it work it 
would ultimately save the lives of many rhino that were still being 
unnecessarily killed. But to do this we first had to learn how to 
lasso a fully grown mother rhino. It was not quite so simple as it 

I naturally discussed my plans with the game department and 
got their interested co-operation in the experiments I began to carry 
out on the plains at the foot of Mount Kenya. Even so, it took several 
weeks before we had developed an effective technique. 

The first problem was how to get a rhino on the run, for if we 
were ever to lasso a fully grown female, she would have to be 
running from us, and not we from her. This alone seemed difficult 
enough, but luckily I knew from past experience that if you can 
catch rhino off-guard, they are fairly easy animals to panic into flight; 
during these early experiments we found that if we charged a rhino 
head-on with our truck the very moment we saw her, and without 
leaving her any time to evaluate the situation, she would invariably 
turn tail and run. 

This initial charge at an animal weighing over a ton never 
ceased to be a nerve-racking affair, but once the rhino was actually 



in flight, our capture was relatively straightforward. For luckily a 
rhino runs fairly straight. Its top speed is just over twenty miles an 
hour and once it has reached this, it had none of the powers of 
manoeuvrability or acceleration of a sixteen-horse-power truck. 
These were the two advantages we relied on for my plan to 

As I drove, I would gradually draw the truck level with the 
rhino. She would be lumbering along, as fast as she could go, and I 
would see her eyeing us suspiciously just a few feet away from where 
I was sitting. Once we were as close as this, I would have to watch 
her intently for this would be the crucial moment of the whole 

There would always come a moment when she decided she had 
put up with enough nonsense from us. Her head would suddenly 
lower and in an instant she would change from pursued into 
pursuer, swerving and trying to charge us as she ran. 

This would be the point when my foot would have to go down 
hard on the accelerator and, provided I judged things properly, the 
charging rhino would pass safely, three or four feet behind our tail- 
board. At this moment, someone in the back would have no diffi- 
culty dropping the noose neatly over the animal's head. 

During our weeks of experiment we used bags of flour instead 
of the lasso until our sense of aim was perfect and we could get the 
bag to burst every time on the very point of the rhino's horn. I 
found that, with practice,. I could calculate the moment of accelera- 
tion with some accuracy, and after one or two slightly hair-raising 
near misses by the rhino we could always get her to pass the 
prescribed distance behind the truck. 

By now I was confident that our technique was as near perfect 
as we could make it. It was just a question of using it to lasso a fully- 
grown mother rhino. Before doing this I had a last minute dis- 
cussion with the Game Department who came up with an objection 
I had not thought of. 

The area chosen for captures obviously had to be one with 
smooth level country, suitable for a truck to drive over at speed. 
But what would happen, asked the Game Department, if a rhino, 
with a ksso and a log trailing behind it, broke away from this 



level country, and escaped into rough terrain where we could no 
longer pursue it ? Unless someone could get the noose off its head 
fairly quickly, the animal might easily become trapped or starve to 

This was clearly a possibility we had to reckon with and unless I 
could find an answer, there could be no question of going ahead. At 
first, I tried working out a complicated timing device that would 
automatically release the log from the noose after a certain period 
and so give the rhino back its freedom. But I knew there must be a 
simpler way than this if we could only think of it. 

Finally I found that if I soaked a piece of rope in a heavily diluted 
solution of battery acid, it would at first lose none of its strength 
but after a few hours, as the acid became concentrated through 
evaporation, the rope would slowly disintegrate. The speed at 
which it did this would naturally depend on the strength of the acid, 
and after several experiments I found exactly the right strength we 

One morning, we set off on our first serious attempt to capture a 
mother rhino and her calf. Our lassos had been carefully soaked in 
weak acid beforehand so that we knew that if anything went wrong 
the nooses would fall apart exactly four hours later and give the 
animals back their freedom. 

I was in the first truck. With the vibration there was no chance 
of using a camera on a fixed mounting, and I was relying on shoot- 
ing the whole scene with a hand-held camera from the cab of my 
own truck. The two nooses of three-quarter-inch rope were lying, 
carefully coiled in the back, securely tied to a pair of sturdy two- 
hundredweight logs. Close behind us followed a second much 
larger truck, with another camera, two of my assistants and a dozen 
African helpers aboard. Once we had the nooses over the mother 
rhino, they would be there to help hold her and I hoped to use this 
same truck to bring back the young rhino to camp. 

We soon sighted a female rhino with a one-year-old calf, and 
when we had charged her, we set off in pursuit according to plan. 
The first time we tried lassoing her, the noose missed; it took two 
more attempts before we could get the rope where we wanted it, 
squarely over her head. 



Then we veered off, the rope paid out, jerked taut, and the log 
was pulled after the charging animal. It was like putting a brake on 
an express train. For a while the rhino continued her charge, but 
the log was too heavy, even for her, and she soon stopped, puzzled 
and more annoyed than ever. For a moment we were forgotten, 
for she now had a new opponent the log. For nearly fifteen 
minutes, at intervals, she vented her rage on it, charging it and 
trampling it and trying her best to break free. 

Finally she began to tire of it all, and we found that the second 
noose was far easier to put on her. Again she tried to set off in 
pursuit of us, but by now she had almost had enough and I was 
anxious not to tire her too seriously. So as soon as she stopped, we 
halted the trucks, and although she protested, there was not a great 
deal she could do as we passed the ropes around her legs and tied her 

As soon as this was done, we all rushed up to her and with 
eight or so of us pushing against her, we managed to roll her on to 
her side so that there was less chance of her breaking loose or doing 
herself any damage. She was snorting and puffing with rage and 
trying to thrash around with her head, but as her legs were tied she 
was too heavy to get on her feet again, and we were free to turn 
our attention to catching her calf. 

Even now we had to be careful, for a year-old rhino can be 
surprisingly powerful and this one had kept fairly close to his 
mother all through the pursuit. At the moment he was about a 
hundred yards away, bleating in the strange way young rhinos do, 
but already looking as if he was making up his mind to come charg- 
ing in to the rescue. So rather than take any risks with the men, I 
decided we would lasso him from the truck as well. 

In his case, we would not need to use the logs, but would rely 
on a simple noose with one end tied to the truck. 

This time we managed to place the noose over his head at the 
first attempt. I was glad of this for he had already ran quite far 
enough for an animal of his weight and age, and I knew that if he 
had been pursued too far there would have been a danger of over- 
straining his heart. 

But once we had lassoed him, there was no great difficulty in 



pulling him to a halt and then tying him up safely in the same way 
we had tied his mother. 

The whole capture had taken less than an hour. It had made a 
unique sequence for my film; as far as I know, it was the first time 
that a fully grown rhino and its calf had been captured together 
without injury. 

At first we had intended letting the mother go free and bringing 
the young rhino back to the camp of the professional game trappers, 
who were helping us at the time. But they had the official permits 
to capture rhino; we had a fine specimen of an adult female already 
captured and in good shape, and we had adequate transport for 
her. Why not keep her as well as her calf? There were plenty of 
foreign zoos that would be delighted at the chance of adding a 
fully grown female black rhinoceros to their collection. That after- 
noon, we sweated away at the back-breaking task of lifting a large 
female rhino into a three-ton lorry. 

A shallow pit had to be dug so that the lorry could be backed 
down it until the tailboard was roughly at ground level. A large 
sledge had to be built out of branches ; when all was ready, the female 
rhino was lifted on to it, roped securely in place, and the sledge was 
winched slowly aboard the lorry. 

I was extremely pleased at the decision to have both the young 
rhino and its mother brought back to camp : I had never had the 
chance before of observing these animals immediately after capture. 
I wanted to film them, and I also wanted to see how soon they would 
become tame enough to be used to human beings. To my surprise 
this was much sooner than I had ever imagined. 

The animals were put in a substantial pen, and although they 
spent the first day refusing to eat and trying to batter their way out, 
they suddenly accepted their situation far sooner than I had ex- 
pected. They stopped charging the sides of their pens, and forty- 
eight hours after lassoing the old female, I was actually feeding her 
through the bars with chunks of euphorbia tree that are one of the 
favourite delicacies of a rhino in the wild. 

I was greatly interested also in seeing their reaction to the differ- 
ent diet they would have to live on in civilisation. Again this proved 
much less of a problem than I had imagined. Within a few days, the 



mother rhino had been shifted quite successfully on to a practical 
zoo diet and the young one seemed to do particularly well on a great 
bowlful of porridge and tinned milk three times a day. 

Despite our success with these two rhinos, I was not really keen 
to take part in further rhino captures now that I had my film and had 
proved that rhinos, of all ages, could be caught without loss of life 
and without cruelty. What interested me was to see how we 
could adapt these methods to improving capture techniques for other 
animals. For by now I knew that this whole question of capturing 
animals had an importance far beyond the mere stocking of zoos. 
If a man was to make a serious attempt to preserve Africa's remain- 
ing wild life, it was clear that he would have to devise an adequate 
means of capturing and transporting animals from areas where they 
were threatened to National Parks and places where they would 
have a proper chance of survival In the past if man wanted to take 
over a new area for cultivation from the wild, the animals would 
simply be shot or driven off. 

This had to stop. But it was useless getting too indignant about 
it, if you offered no alternative. So for several weeks more we con- 
tinued our experiments near Mount Kenya and near Mount Kili- 
manjaro areas, and filmed as we went. For a while, we con- 
centrated on catching giraffe by lassoing from a moving truck, 
using a long noose on the end of a bamboo pole. Here, the chief 
difficulty was not so much the actual capture anyone can catch a 
giraffe in the end provided he is prepared to chase it in a car until 
it is exhausted. Instead, we wanted to find out how to catch it 
quickly, for the best method of capture and the one that does the 
least harm to the animal is usually the swiftest. So we used to 
work very fast, and once we had lassoed the giraffe we would 
quieten it by throwing a large black cloth over its head. 

When it could no longer see, it would stop struggling. Then we 
would be able to tie ropes to its legs and body. Eight or ten men 
would be needed to hold the ends of the ropes, but provided we 
took our time and were careful, we could slowly remove the cloth 
and then, pace by pace, walk the giraffe to a waiting lorry. With an 
animal of this size, transport was something of a problem; we used 
to place our giraffes inside a type of large packing case, which 



would support them during the journey, and prevent them kicking 
or hurting themselves. A space would be left at the top for their 
heads to poke through, and the giraffes would peer mournfully over 
the top of the cab as they were driven away. 

Apart from the giraffes, we also lassoed eland, zebra and ostriches; 
I became convinced that lassoing was the most effective and humane 
method of capture in existence. It has only been quite recently that 
I have changed my mind about this, with the remarkable advances 
that have been achieved in techniques of anaesthetising wild animals 
with hypodermic darts. Attempts of this sort had been made for 
many years, but at the time I made "Savage Splendour/' they were 
still far from perfect, tending either to leave the animal totally un- 
affected or else to prove fatal. 

The real problem was to discover exactly how much anaesthetic 
the animal needed and several scientists now seem to have solved this 
in different ways. We have worked closely on this recently with 
Dr. Harthoorn of Nairobi, and the methods he uses have proved 
particularly successful. As an anaesthetic, he uses a mixture of four 
drugs a hypnotic, a narcotic, a tranquilliser and a muscle relaxant 
and fires his hypodermic darts by means of an air-gun or a specially 
constructed gun using a small charge of black powder. We have 
shown his work on our television programmes; the most impres- 
sive demonstration of the success of his methods occurred a few 
months ago when they v/ere used to capture sixty scarce white rhino 
in an area needed for cultivation in Natal and to send them to 
National Parks where they had a chance of continuing to breed. 
Eight were even sent quite safely as far as Southern Rhodesia. 

Although animal captures played a large part in "Savage Splen- 
dour," they did not form the whole of the film by any means, and 
the scenes I was probably proudest of in the end came almost en- 
tirely by chance and featured some animals I had not even considered 
when I first planned the film. These were the hippos of M'zima 

I had heard about these legendary springs several times in the 
past, but it wa:> not until 1 had finished filming my captures and was 
actually back in Nairobi that 1 had a chance of visiting them. For in 
those days, M zima Springs were difficult to get to. They lay one 



hundred and sixty miles east of Nairobi in particularly rough country 
and for the last two or three miles you had to make your way there 
on foot once the trail petered out and you would risk a broken axle 
if you tried taking a truck any further. 

I decided to break our journey at the Springs on the way down 
to Mombasa. I had been taken in by too many stories about African 
beauty spots in the past to be expecting anything particularly un- 
usual, but from my first sight of M'zima Springs, I knew that this 
place really was unique. 

It was a natural spring surrounded by palm trees, with the water 
forming a large pool. Part of it was very deep, but because of a 
rocky bed and the quality of the water it was absolutely clear. The 
nearest thing to it I had ever seen was Silver Springs in Florida, but 
M'zima Springs had something that even Silver Springs lacked. 
Swimming quite undisturbed in this sparklingly clear water were 
fifteen large hippo. 

Even as I watched them, I saw the possibilities offered by this 
strange freak of nature. Normally hippo in a river are among the 
most difficult of all animals to film satisfactorily. You see little more 
than their mouths or their nostrils breaking occasionally above the 
surface of the water. But here I could actually watch the movements 
of their bodies as they swam. I had never seen this before and never 
realised quite how graceful a hippo can be when he is in the water. 

Even so, there was no really effective way of filming all this from 
the edge of the Springs. The picture would be distorted and we 
would not be able to get close enough to them. I knew that the only 
way we would ever do justice to this remarkable scene would be to 
film from under the water myself. 

As I thought of it, this seemed quite impossible. We had no 
underwater cameras, and no diving apparatus, nor did I know any- 
one in Africa who had. But the more I watched these hippo, the 
more determined I became that this was not going to stand in my 
way. If we could not get any special diving apparatus, we would 
have to make our underwater film without it. 

That very afternoon I turned our trucks back the way we had 
come and we reached Nairobi again by nightfall. Next morning I 
was out early. My first point of call was the largest hardware shop 



in Nairobi. I was relieved to find that they stocked large, gal- 
vanised iron water tanks, and I bought one a sturdy, rectangular, 
coffin-shaped object, eight feet long and three feet wide and just 
over three feet deep. 

I think this tank cost five pounds ten. I had it loaded on to one of 
my trucks and then drove off with it to a blacksmith, on the other side 
of town who had done several repairs for us in the past. He had an 
oxy-acetylene blowlamp, and I told him that I wanted the top cut off 
the tank, and a small window cut in one end. While this was going 
on, I had a sheet of toughened windscreen glass specially cut to fit it. 
When the glass had been bolted into position and the joint water- 
proofed with a thin strip of rubber, the equipment for our first 
underwater filming expedition was complete. 

The following morning we were on our way back to M'zima 
Springs with some African helpers. It was quite a struggle, carrying 
our iron tank on our backs for the last three miles, but as soon as we 
reached the water I had it launched. The window was perfectly 
watertight, but the tank itself was top-heavy and at first had a 
tendency to capsize when I tried getting inside. We cured this by 
lashing a large tree trunk along each side. 

Apart from this, the tank was perfect. I could lie almost full- 
length inside it with a sixteen millimetre camera placed against the 
window and see everything we wanted beneath the surface of 
M'zima Springs. When I was inside, I found that it was necessary to 
cover over the top of the tank with a tarpaulin to cut out the glare 
from the sun; visibility then became perfect; three of my Africans 
pushed me slowly out to where the fifteen hippos were swimming. 

When I think of it all now, I suppose we should have taken more 
care to find out the reactions of the hippos, for if one had become 
even a little playful this submarine of ours would soon have dived a 
little deeper than was intended. But we were too excited at our 
success to worry very much at the time, and the hippos were too 
contented in the clear waters of M'zima Springs to bother them- 
selves with us. 

When they were swimming, they were like a monumental under- 
water ballet. At other times, they simply basked near the surface of 
the water, their great legs scarcely moving for hours on end. 



We spent several days filming them and returned to M'zima 
Springs on two occasions. As the hippo ignored us so completely, 
we soon became bolder, approaching to within a few feet of them 
to take close-ups, and even getting to recognise them by their 
particular characteristics. There was one old male we never tired of 
filming who was something of a clown. His tusks were curiously 
distorted, giving him an expression of rather startling good-nature, 
and he would leer at us from under the water as if he knew what we 
were doing all the time. 

I was particularly pleased with these scenes we shot of the hippos 
as they seemed to prove something I had always believed about 
film-making that the simplest methods are invariably the most 
effective. A few months after I made my film, a team of Italian 
cameramen arrived at M'zima Springs to film the hippos under- 
water as we had done. They were superbly equipped. They had 
collapsible boats and aqualungs and diving suits and underwater 
cameras. No sooner had they begun than the hippos left M'zima 
Springs. It was three weeks before they came back. 


21 Michaela 

THE town of Potosi in Bolivia Is one of the oldest 
Spanish cities in South America. A strange relic from another 
age, it is the place where the Spanish conquistadores came to dig 
their silver from the Andes. It is 14,000 feet above sea level and is 
generally said to be the highest city in the world. But for me 
Potosi has another claim to fame. 

When I returned to the United States from Africa after making 
"Savage Splendour," I had one outstanding ambition to get back 
to Africa to make films showing the threat hanging over its wild 
life. But this was not even remotely possible at that time. Film 
backers are not particularly concerned with starting crusades and 
those I knew seemed anxious to go on getting the sort of films I 
had made in the past. I was known chiefly for my long-distance car 
expeditions overland and it was finally suggested that I ought to 
make a film on a journey through South America from Guayaquil in 
Ecuador through Peru and Bolivia down to Argentine and Buenos 

So I set off, travelling light. I had a single large Dodge truck 
and touring car to carry my camping and photographic 
equipment. I imagined, somewhat hopefully as it turned out, that 
in South America it would be easier to live off the country than in 

After Africa, this journey seemed too easy. There was none of 
that air of constant uncertainty that made Africa so exciting and 
often so nerve-racking. 

But what the start of my journey lacked in excitement it more 
than made up for in spectacle. The road led across the Altiplano, the 
high plateau of the Andes and the Cordilleras that runs for several 
hundred miles parallel with the coast of the Pacific. Most of the time 



we were at least ten thousand feet above sea level. The climate was 
superb, and we drove on across those long plains with a brilliant 
sky above and the snow-covered peaks of the Andes glistening on 
the horizon away to our left. 

Only occasionally would something remind me of the work I 
knew I should be doing in Africa. Most of the time the grasslands 
of the Altiplano were devoid of wild life, but suddenly I might 
notice a pitifully small herd of llama or vicuna and remember the 
early descriptions I had read of the way these animals had abounded 
before the Spanish invaders arrived and massacred them nearly out 
of existence. It is because of the rarity of vicuna to-day that their 
fine, superbly soft wool is the most expensive in the world. 

As I drove on across these beautiful, almost empty plains, I 
understood as never before the way the life seems to go from a 
country when it loses its wild animals. 

Apart from this, the journey was most enjoyable, and the sense 
I had of this being something of a holiday grew when I met Michaela. 
I had already known her in New York, where she worked as a 
fashion designer. Now I suddenly found her here in the middle of 
South America, travelling through obscure villages of Bolivia and 
Peru in search of traditional Indian patterns and designs as an exotic 
inspiration for her work. Our paths crossed on several occasions 
while I was filming, but it was not until we became snowbound 
together, on the road to Potosi, that I proposed to her and was 

From the start, Michaela made it clear that she was as prone to 
sudden decisions as I was, and we decided to get married at once. 
This was easier said than done. First we had to reach Potosi, and 
after driving up the spectacular road that zig-zags across the Andes 
towards the city, we arrived just in time to catch the registrar before 
he closed his office for the night. After some argument he agreed to 
marry us and the ceremony took place in his office. One of the 
witnesses was the president of the local Bolivian-American club. 
The other was the town drunk. 

Despite the haste and light-heartedness of our marriage, I have 
always felt myself particularly fortunate in having Michaela as a 
wife. Right from the start I found that she shared my passion for 



travel and for animals and throughout our marriage our enthusiasms 
have always seemed to coincide on the things that matter to us. 

Michaela's toughness as a traveller was soon put to the test on a 
journey we made into the thick forests of Ecuador. There cannot be 
many women who would care for a honeymoon under the con- 
ditions in which we spent ours. There was no chance of taking a 
vehicle along the jungle tracks we had to follow and we jogged our 
way for many miles into the forest on horseback. Sometimes the 
going became so rough on mountain trails that not even the horses 
could continue and we travelled on foot, alone with our Indian 

We were searching for the survivors of the once powerful tribe 
of the Colorado Indians. There is a small, semi-civilised group of 
them living near San Domingo in Ecuador; but there were said to 
be still a number of families living in complete isolation, in the forest. 
As far as I could discover, there were barely two hundred of them 
left, although they had once been among the most numerous of the 
Indian peoples of Ecuador. Now they were a doomed tribe, living 
their furtive life deep in the forest, their numbers shrinking year by 

Apart from this, the chief reason why I was prepared to make 
such efforts to find them and film them was that the Colorado 
Indians had somehow managed to preserve their distinctiveness as a 
race, still decorating themselves in the unique and colourful way 
that they always had. They derived their name from the way they 
dyed their bodies brick red with the juice of the anyoto seeds. An 
elegant young Colorado would not consider that his appearance 
was as it should be until he had also blackened his teeth, drawn 
broad zebra-like stripes on his face and body with a black vegetable 
dye, and daubed down his hair with the sticky anyoto juice into the 
semblance of a solid, tight-fitting helmet. 

To travel through their country we had to cross several rivers on 
a jungle ropeway. You sit in a rope harness and pull yourself from 
bank to bank, a few feet above the river, by tugging on the pulley. 
This looks far more hair-raising than it actually is; Michaela and I 
soon found that by far the greatest danger was of catching our 
fingers between the pulley and the rope. 



Finally we saw our first Colorado Indian, He was a young boy 
on his own in the forest, and despite the greetings of our Indian 
guides, he ran as soon as he saw us. This was bad, for I feared that 
unless we managed to catch up with him before he got back to his 
village and reassured him that we meant him no harm, he would 
report that we had tried to attack him. The last thing I wanted was 
to be the centre of the warlike attentions of a tribe like the Colorados. 

Se we had to set off m pursuit, blundering our way along the 
overgrown forest paths the boy had taken. Luckily our Indians 
were as at home in the forest as the boy and could run considerably 
faster. At last they caught him and at the price of a packet of 
American cigarettes, we managed to convince him that we wished 
him and his tribe well. 

As a result of our new friendship with the boy, we were soon 
made welcome by the whole tribe and were able to stay several days 
with them filming their weaving and the daily life in their primitive 
village in the forest. It was here that I had my first chance of 
observing one of Michaela's particular talents from which I have 
benefited many times since her remarkable ability to win the friend- 
ship of primitive peoples. For without speaking their language, she 
was soon on the warmest terms with these Colorado Indians and 
before we left, they insisted on making us both honorary members 
of the tribe by painting our faces with the traditional red and black 
stripes of their race. 

During the next few days of our journey back through the forest, 
we found that the red dye soon washed off but the black remained. 
For several weeks after we had left the forests of Ecuador, we were 
striped like a pair of zebras with the tribal marks of the Colorado 

Although Michaela had done so well during our first trip, there was 
one thing that seriously worried me about her during these first 
months of our marriage; she seemed so engrossed in South America 
that I used to wonder how I was ever going to get her to come with 
me to Africa. 

"Don't fall in love too much with South America," I used to say 
to her. "One of these days I'll take you to Africa. Save your 



affections for that. Africa really is a place worth faffing in love with/' 

She would laugh and tell me I talked about Africa too much and 
even when we returned to New York, she was still busily at work, 
planning a return trip for us both to South America. But then, 
once again, chance intervened and before Michaela's South American 
plans had come to anything, we had both been offered a totally un- 
expected chance of working together in Africa. 

This began a few weeks after our return to New York with a 
cable from HoEywood asking me to fly out to meet the producer 
Sam Zimbalist at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio as soon as 
possible. I was not anxious to become involved with Hollywood at 
this point of my career, but when I made inquiries I found that 
M.G.M. was just starting production of a new version of Rider 
Haggard's highly romantic novel, "King Solomon's Mines." It 
was to be made on location in Africa with no expense spared, and I 
was being considered for the position of technical adviser to the 

At first I was slightly puzzled why M.G.M. should be consider- 
ing me for this particular job. It was not until I had reached Holly- 
wood and been ushered into the middle of a story conference to meet 
Sam Zimbalist himself that I discovered why. 

"Gentlemen," said Zimbalist, introducing me to the rest of the 
conference, "this is Armand Denis who made that wonderful 
sequence you saw of the hippos swimming under water in his film 
'Savage Splendour'." 

I was suitably flattered and tried to thank him but he went on 
talking about my film. "You know," he said, "the hippos were 
great, just great, but it wasn't just the hippos that made me decide 
you should be our technical adviser on this film. 

"No," he went on, "it was the splendid way you pretended to 
shoot it. Do you know," he said, turning to the conference, 
"Armand here actually made it appear in the film as if he shot those 
scenes of the hippos from an old iron tank with a piece of wind- 
screen glass stuck in one end. That's what I call real showmanship." 

"But, Mr. Zimbalist," I said, "I really did shoot those scenes like 
that, just as I showed them in the film." 

"Oh, now, now, Armand," said Sam Zimbalist, "don't try 



taking us in. We've been in the business longer than you have and 
we know that you couldn't have shot a scene like that without at 
least 25,000 dollars' worth of equipment." 

I would have gone on arguing, but I suddenly realised that 
everyone around the conference table was in deadly earnest and that 
if I persisted in this absurd story of mine, I would soon be annoying 
people and lose my chance of the job. 

So instead of carrying on the argument, I just said, "Well, Mr, 
Zimbalist, I must say that film took in most people, but I suppose 
I should never have expected it to fool you." 

At this, everyone smiled knowingly and the following day my 
appointment as technical adviser to "King Solomon's Mines" was 

Under normal circumstances I would not have been quite so 
anxious to work for Hollywood. I have always valued my freedom 
and independence too much. But this film had an unexpected 
amount in its favour as far as I was concerned. Production was due 
to start in Kenya so it offered me a unique chance of getting back 
to the one country I wanted to and be handsomely paid for my 
trouble. It also turned out that M.G.M. needed a double for 
Deborah Kerr, the star of the picture. Michaela had such an unusual 
resemblance to her that she was offered the job: the two of us could 
therefore travel and, we hoped, be together during the entire 
production of the film. 

The only thing I had to worry about now was how Michaela was 
going to react to Africa. We flew together out to Nairobi in the 
autumn of 1949, and all the way there I remember thinking how 
disastrous it was going to be if she did not like it. 

Within an hour of landing I knew I need worry no further. 
Whatever it is about Africa that claims its followers for life, began to 
win her at once. She fell in love with Kenya, just as I had, and before 
long she was busy driving round the outskirts of Nairobi in a hired 
car, looking for a likely spot to buy land and one day build a house 
of our own. 

Our assignment with M.G.M. lasted six months and we spent 
the time flying in chartered planes to different locations in Tangan- 
yika, Uganda, Ruanda and the Congo, sleeping in luxury camps 



specially built for the film staff, working with vast crews of camera- 
men and technicians and never ceasing to marvel at Hollywood's 
way with the jungle and with Rider Haggard. 

I was never particularly happy about the film as it finally ap- 
peared. As it progressed I felt it was presenting altogether the wrong 
view of wild life and that scenes glorifying the hunter and the 
killing of animals contributed to exactly that view of Africa that I 
disliked when I met it back in America. For this reason I finally 
asked that my name be kept off the film's credits and decided that 
wherever my own future lay, it was certainly not with this sort of 
large-budget film-making in Africa. 

Apart from the film, our stay in Africa was a great success, 
particularly for Michaela, who made an excellent double for 
Deborah Kerr. In the end she also found her plot of land. It was on 
the side of a long wooded ridge, in a district called Langata, eleven 
miles south-west of Nairobi. It was isolated and untouched. There 
was a wild ravine with a stream at the bottom and an immense view 
across the plains beyond. When the weather was right, the distant 
outline of Mount Kilimanjaro appeared on the horizon, 132 miles 

Most important of all, this place had the feel of Africa about it. 
It had space and freedom and as soon as we saw it we knew that if 
ever the day came when we could settle and build a house, this was 
where it would be. 

For everyone else who had come from America to work on 
"King Solomon's Mines," the conclusion of the film marked the 
end of their work in Africa. For us it was only the beginning. We 
had the time and the money now to make a film of our own, and 
when the last of the chartered airliners had roared off from Nairobi 
airport, carrying M.G.M.'s technicians back to Hollywood, Michaela 
and 1 stayed on, relieved that at last we could work in our own way. 

We planned what was to be my fifth overland crossing of Africa, 
driving from Mombasa across Kenya, Uganda, the Congo and 
Angola to Luanda and the Atlantic. As I completed the prepara- 
tions for this journey in Nairobi, things seemed to go smoother 
than ever before at the start of an expedition. 



To start with, there was no difficulty buying all the equipment 
we needed at bargain prices. Much of it had been left behind by 
M.G.M. The stores in Nairobi that specialise in fitting out safaris 
and expeditions had more equipment than they knew what to do 
with, and our pots and pans, our tents and sleeping bags and pressure 
lamps had all seen service earlier on location with "King Solomon's 

I also found that Michaela made a great difference to the 
efficiency of preparations for a safari. After die early days when I 
had taken such pride in arranging the food supplies of my expedi- 
tions, I had been getting increasingly haphazard in the stores I had 
been laying in. For some reason I would always seem to buy great 
quantities of herrings in tomato sauce, most of which would remain 
uneaten throughout the journey; and when I was driving I would 
find myself living on sandwiches and tinned sardines for days on 

Michaela did her best to put a stop to this, and spent several days 
putting the housekeeping of our expedition firmly in order, so that 
by the time we were ready to leave our two trucks had a good supply 
of potatoes, a large bag of onions, boxes of dried apples and apricots, 
packets of dried soups, tins of condensed milk and several cases of the 
only tinned meat I consider worthy of a man's eating corned 

This expedition of ours produced a film that was a successor to 
"Savage Splendour." We called it "Below the Sahara," and for all 
the early scenes, I had the particular satisfaction unthinkable under 
the M.G.M. regime of working as my own cameraman. This was 
something I particularly liked doing as the result was always a film 
that I felt to be particularly my own. By this time I had finally sold 
my old travel-scarred Akeley cameras and was shooting the whole 
film in colour with a 16 mm. Bell and Ho well, a camera I always 
enjoyed using because of its convenience and high mobility. 

I appreciated the new freedom and flexibility this gave to the 
camera work when we were filming among the tribes I knew in 
the Congo. We visited the pygmies again and the giant Watusi, 
and all the time I was pleased to see how well Michaela was taking 
to this life on safari and how here, as in South America, she seemed 



to show an almost uncanny knack for getting on with even the most 
outlandish tribes. 

The scenes of animal capture in "Savage Splendour" had proved 
so popular that I planned to continue the same theme in this film. 
After we had been joined half-way through the trip by a new 
assistant, called Tom Stobart, who was later to acquire fame as 
photographer to the successful Everest expedition, we set off down 
to South Africa where I was hoping to film the capture of some 
animals that had long interested me particularly the sea-lions that 
still breed at a few rare places along the Atlantic coastline of south 
and south-west Africa. 

The first place we made for was a small island off die coast, not 
far from. Cape Town. In the past the sea-lions had been hunted 
almost to the point of extermination along this coast, but on this 
particular island the animals had managed to survive. It was 
practically inaccessible from the mainland, with rocks and treacher- 
ous currents that made it impossible to land except on the 
calmest of days. In time, this island had become the last refuge for 
the sea-lions, the place they came to every season to breed and raise 
their families before disappearing into the Atlantic again. I was 
glad to see that by now the South African government had under- 
stood the uniqueness of the island, and placed it and its sea-lions under 
the most strict protection. 

Luckily we had no difficulty getting permission to land and do 
our filming. We also received permission to capture one of the sea- 
lions provided we let it go almost immediately afterwards, which 
suited us as I had been specially asked by one of the local universities 
to obtain for them a sample of the blood of a fully-grown male sea- 
lion for research. 

A fully grown sea-lion can weigh anything up to 800 pounds 
and I knew it was going to be no easy task to catch one unharmed. 
Unlike a giraffe or a rhino, there was no chance of catching one 
with a lasso, and I finally decided that the only feasible way of doing 
it was with a large net. But I knew how powerful a sea-lion was 
and nowhere in Cape Town could I find a net that really seemed to 
me strong enough. 

Finally I decided diat the only thing to do was to design a net 


The author at Macchu Pichu, the mystery city of Peru, with its dis- 
coverer Senator Hiram Bingham. The Incas "anchored" the sun 

to this stone at the solstice, 

Ecuador. A Colorado Indian painted with the traditional red and dark 

blue stripes. Beloiv, crossing a river a few feet above the 

water by tugging on the pulley 

The author and Michaela shortly after their marriage in 

Bolivia, 1948 

* A * w * * * A 

q/"f/ie grasslands of the Altiplano were devoid of life but suddenly I 

Filming Birds of Paradise from a platform in a dead tree. New Guinea 

The everyday costume of the Wahgi Valley people, New Guinea 

"Luckily Des Bartktt was with us again: that first year in Africa our very 
lives seemed to be divided between the Land Rovers and the editing room" 


of our own and have it made by the fishermen in one of the villages 
along the coast. So we bought several hundred yards of govern- 
ment surplus nylon parachute cord and had a net made from it with 
a two-inch mesh, twenty-five feet long and about eight feet wide. 

By now we had our net and our permit, but we still had to 
reach the island. This was the most difficult thing of all. For nearly 
three weeks we waited along the coast, but the seas were as heavy 
as ever and the fishermen told us that the surf breaking over the 
island would make it highly dangerous to attempt to land. 

We were getting highly impatient, but finally the seas did drop 
a little. Several students from Cape Town University, who were 
all strong swimmers, were keen to come with us and help with the 
landing, so we decided to risk it. 

We had one sailing boat and a couple of dinghies with outboard 
motors. Our cameras were in waterproof plastic bags, and we had 
placed our film and smaller pieces of equipment inside biscuit tins 
and sealed them with tape so that if necessary they could be floated 

For as we came closer to the island, I saw that there was no- 
where we could land the boats. The waves were still crashing on 
to the rocks. The only way to land was for everyone to swim the 
last thirty yards and scramble ashore as best he could. This was good 
enough for all of us except for Michaela, who hates the water and 
can hardly swim a stroke. 

If I had known how dangerous it was going to be, I would never 
have allowed her to come. As it was, if it had not been for the 
students from the university, she would have had to spend the day 
waiting for us in one of the dinghies, for we could never have got her 
ashore. But one of the best swimmers we had dived through the 
surf with a line and we were able to use this to pull her to the 
island with nothing worse than a ducking. 

Once we had landed and could turn our attention to the sea- 
lions, we were fascinated by what we saw. The animals were 
everywhere. The island was minute, scarcely 400 yards across, and 
every square yard of it seemed to be carefully allocated to a particular 
family of sea-lions. Several times we saw the old grey bull sea-lions 
fighting. They would charge and gash each other with their razor- 



sharp teeth and on each occasion the dispute seemed to be over the 
territory their families were occupying. 

But it was these families that we found most interesting and that 
we spent most of our time filming. The females seemed to enforce 
the strictest family discipline on their young and some of the best 
shots we got were of the young sea-lions being fed and learning to 
climb on the rocks, while the very young babies lay and sunned 
themselves beside their mothers. 

Unfortunately the weather began to worsen and the fishermen 
who had brought us were soon looking anxiously at the waves. I 
still wanted the chance to try capturing one of the bulls, but finally 
I was told that if we waited another hour, we might be stuck on 
the island for a fortnight. Reluctantly, we packed our cameras, 
sealed the film into the biscuit tins again, and battled our way back 
through the surf to the waiting boats. 

We spent another week or so waiting for the weather to change, 
but it never did. We were getting seriously behind schedule with 
our film, but we still had not captured our male sea-lion nor ob- 
tained die blood samples I had promised the university. I was just 
getting ready to abandon the whole idea when one of the old 
fishermen who had been helping us made a suggestion. 

"If you really want sea-lions," he said, "this isn't the place for 
you. You should go to Cape Cross. There are more sea-lions there 
than in the whole of this coast, and it's not an island. It's part of the 
mainland so you won't have any trouble getting there when die 
seas are rough." 

"But where is Cape Cross?" I asked him. 

"Oh, it's quite a way," he replied. "Bight up the coast of South 
West Africa. Not far from a town called Swakopmund. But it 
would be worth your while going there if you're really interested in 

I knew Swakopmund. The only trouble about it was that it was 
nearly 1,500 miles from Cape Town and there was no regular air 

I waited on another two days at Cape Town to see if the weather 
changed. But the seas remained as rough as ever, and I realised that 
if we were to complete our film in time, it was Cape Cross or noth- 



ing. I had found that It was possible to fly as far as Windhoek by 
scheduled plane, so Michaela, Stobart and myself set off, trusting 
that we could find some way of completing the journey when we 
got there. Our luck was in. At Windhoek we found a stunt pilot 
who was willing to cram us into his plane that he normally used for 
aerobatics, and fly us the rest of the way to Swakopmund. 

It was a terrifying journey for the pilot seemed determined to 
show us that there still was some wild life in the parched, semi- 
desert we had to cross. We never saw an animal in this entire 
wilderness, but the pilot seemed to think that if he could only fly 
low enough he would find something in the end, and finally we were 
nearly hedge-hopping across the desert 

The town of Swakopmund itself was something of a curiosity. 
It had been built by the Germans during their period of colonisation, 
and still remained a completely authentic German provincial town 
in the middle of Africa. The African waiters in the hotel said 
"Mahlzeit" and clicked their heels when they took your order. 
There were men in the streets in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats, and 
although the year was 1949, there was still a war memorial in the 
town square showing a fallen German soldier being taken off to 
Heaven by a solid Teutonic angel. 

Cape Cross was about twenty miles away, and we drove there 
that afternoon. Everything the old fisherman had said about it was 
true. The sea-lions were there in great numbers. They were not 
protected in the same way as those on the island near Cape Town, but 
a local company had a concession to kill a limited number each year 
for their skins, and they seemed to have been able to protect the 
animals against poaching, and see that their numbers remained 
fairly constant. 

We got in touch with this company and obtained permission to 
film and capture what we wanted. For the capture, we hired about 
a dozen local men and drove off with them, the net and the cameras 
to the beach. We soon picked a magnificent group of three males 
and decided that we would try for one of them. 

The way I intended using the net was to hold it out with eight or 
nine men behind it, and try to persuade the sea-lion to charge it 
while he was still on land. We soon found that these males were only 


too anxious to oblige. They were all extremely aggressive, and 
surprisingly fast on land: the sight of an 800 pound male sea-lion 
charging straight for you is one that you do not forget in a hurry. 
Luckily we were able to isolate one heavily scarred old male, 
and after a great struggle we had him firmly enough in our nets to 
use the hypodermic and get the blood samples we needed. Several 
of us were badly bruised and when we let him go, he stood roaring 
aggressively after us across the beach. We decided then that the 
capture of one male sea-lion was enough for us. 


22 The Last of the Head-Hunters 

I HAVE always been slightly horrified at the time it takes to 
make a film. "Below the Sahara" occupied us for eighteen 
months and we must have driven over ten thousand miles from 
location to location across Africa while we were making it. We 
never had a day off, we worked long hours, and we shot nearly 
50,000 feet of film. Yet when we arrived back in New York to 
deliver our work to the R.K.O. film company, who had bought 
the rights and were undertaking the distribution, I had to watch as 
their editors relentlessly cut my material into a film that would run 
for a bare eighty minutes. 

The editors did their work well; the film was a success, and I 
seemed to be the only person who was at all concerned that it had 
taken eighteen months to shoot eighty minutes of feature film. But 
the more I thought about it, the more dissatisfied I became. I was 
sure it must be possible to cut down the wastage on this sort of film 
making and just to see whether we could do it, I planned an ex- 
pedition that was to last exactly six months. In that time we would 
make not one, but three full-length films. 

To-day when we regularly make one television film every three 
weeks, this seems almost leisurely, but in those days it was practically 
unheard of. As we know now, the secret of this sort of high-pressure 
film making is to plan your itinerary as thoroughly as you can before- 
hand so as to cut down delays to a minimum. At the same time, 
you have to accept the fact that things will go wrong, so that within 
your plans you must leave yourself as many alternatives and as 
much flexibility as possible. 

It was with this in mind that I planned the three films we were 



to make. The first was to be in Northern Australia, the second 
along the Great Barrier Reef off" Eastern Australia, and the third, 
if everything went as it should, was to be among the stone- 
age people of New Guinea. Each of these areas fascinated me, and 
I knew that each possessed a sufficient variety of people and wild 
life to give us a wealth of material. Where our skill would come in 
would be in making the most of it in the limited time we had set 

On each successive expedition I have undertaken, it has always 
seemed that I have travelled lighter than on the one before. I dislike 
equipment for its own sake, and when Michaela and I flew to Sydney 
in the spring of 1952 for the start of our journey, almost the only 
pieces of film-making equipment we had with us were our tape 
recorders and the 16 mm. Bell and Howell camera that had served 
us so weE on my last two expeditions. Even so we had something 
of a battle while we were finishing our packing. If Michaela had 
her way she would always go on safari with several suitcases full of 
the most glamorous dresses she has, and with an extraordinary array 
of lotions and cosmetics she claims to be indispensable. I have 
found that the crucial point in any of our expeditions always 
comes when I have to start reminding her about excess baggage and 
persuading her that there is simply no room for everything she 
wants. The problem tends to be aggravated if we spend a few days 
in Paris, as we did on our way to Australia. Every woman and 
every husband will understand what I mean. 

These arguments of ours always finish in an uneasy compromise; 
and when we took off from Orly to Sydney our luggage was 
still considerably overweight. 

From Sydney on our journey was by road, driving several 
hundred miles north up to Cape York, the peninsula that forms the 
northernmost tip of the continent. 

The country we had to cross was difficult and singularly devoid 
of charm. It swarmed with flies. It was scorched and airless 
and apart from an occasional gum tree or two, there was httle 
vegetation of any interest. As we were working to such a tight 
schedule, the worst thing of all was the roughness of the country 
which caused us endless delays. Time after time w T e had to stop and 



laboriously winch the trucks across the treacherous sandy beds ol 
the dried up rivers with which this part of Australia abounds. 

One thing alone alleviated the discomforts of the journey the 
birds. This bleak countryside was alive with them and as we drove 
on we would be preceded by great flocks of parrots and cockatoos 
and budgerigars. We would glance casually at a flock several 
thousand strong and then one of us would notice that it was entirely 
made up of some unusual species of parrot or cockatoo, a single one 
of which would have had a sizeable price-tag in a New York pet 

Exciting though they were, we had not come all this way to this 
uncomfortable country just to watch birds. Our real destination lay 
farther north, and our film-making would not begin in earnest until 
we had reached a town called Normanton, and contacted a man there 
called Norman Smith. 

I had heard a lot about Normanton, but nothing had quite pre- 
pared us for what we found when we arrived. A pair of bony 
cows were asleep in the main street as we drove in. The shops were 
empty, and no one answered when we sounded our horn. For 
Normanton is one of the ghost towns of Northern Australia. At 
the beginning of the century it had been the centre of a famous gold 
rush and had mushroomed like one of the boom towns of the 
Yukon. For a few years it prospered. Its population grew to 
several thousand. Then the gold suddenly petered out. The 
people began to leave, and within a few years all that remained of 
Normanton were its empty houses, its deserted casino, and its theatres 
with the sun-bleached playbills still outside dating from the begin- 
ning of the century. 

But the state of the town hardly worried the man we were 
seeking. Norman Smith's real interest in life lay beyond in the 
mangrove swamps and along the estuaries of the muddy rivers which 
run from the Cape York peninsula to the sea. For he was one of 
Australia's leading experts on crocodiles and we were counting on 
him to help us film and capture a good specimen of the biggest 
crocodile in the world the famous marine crocodile that inhabits 
the seas between Northern Australia and the islands of New Guinea 
and Indonesia. 



I have already described how I encountered with one of these 
monsters in Bali in 1929. On that occasion I had had no chance 
of filming it and now, nearly a quarter of a century later, I 
wanted to make up for the chance I had missed then. According to 
some reports, a folly grown marine crocodile could measure any- 
thing up to thirty feet in length and although a lot of them had been 
shot in recent years, I hoped it would still prove possible to find an 
impressive one. 

The crocodile hunting is done for the most part by so-called 
"sportsmen" from other parts of Australia, Almost every large city 
in Southern Australia appears to have its crocodile-shooting club, 
the members of which charter planes to the north for week-end 
parties and then pop away enthusiastically at anything that remotely 
resembles a crocodile. 

Although this part of the coast had always been a favourite spot 
for these outings, Norman Smith was hopeful that he could show us 
something. During the last few days he had sighted several good- 
sized crocodiles in the estuary and he thought that with patience we 
should be able to capture one. 

To do this we had to follow a strange procedure. First we 
had to catch some bait for the crocodile. This in itself was exciting 
enough as the most effective bait for a marine crocodile proved 
to be a 200 pound grouper fish caught with a rod and line. Our first 
attempt to find some suitable bait resulted in pulling ashore a nine- 
foot sawfish with a three-foot saw on its nose, but Norman Smith 
rejected it, insisting that the crocodiles in this part of Australia had 
a particular taste for grouper. 

The trap itself was a strong stockade of logs driven deeply into 
the mud just above the high tide mark along the shore. The bait 
a ten-pound chunk of grouper was placed at the far end of the 
stockade and across the entrance Norman Smith had stretched a 
long steel cable tied in a noose and attached to a delicately balanced 
baulk of timber that would jerk the noose tight if anything disturbed 
it. To reach the bait the crocodile had to enter the stockade and the 
piece offish was placed in such a position that when the crocodile 
reached it, the noose would be almost exactly around the centre of 
his body. 



To me it seemed a strange and complicated way of catching a 
crocodile, but Norman Smith was highly experienced and confident 
that it would work. So at dawn we all made our way down to the 
estuary, set the trap with great care, smothered ourselves in mosquito 
repellent and waited for our crocodile to appear. We were so anxious 
to film the crocodile actually coming out of the water that we waited 
all day, although Norman Smith had told us that this would almost 
certainly be a waste of time, as marine crocodiles usually come 
ashore only at night. 

It was nearly sunset before we left, but there had been no sign of 
life from the river. Nor was there for the next day, nor the next, 
and it was not until the fourth morning after we set the trap that 
we came down to the estuary to find that we had actually caught 
something. A few yards from the shore there was a great com- 
motion. We had caught our crocodile at last. He had been able 
to pull himself out of the stockade and into the water, but the 
cable around his middle had held him tight, and now he was twisting 
and fighting and thrashing the water for all he was worth. 

We had a struggle pulling him in. Finally he tired a little and 
we were able to film him and measure him and examine him 
closely before releasing him later that afternoon. He was a fine 
crocodile, a most handsome olive green and certainly larger than 
anything I had seen in Africa. But compared with the great croco- 
dile I remembered seeing swimming beneath my canoe in Bali, he 
was a disappointment. From his snout to the tip of his tail he was 
exactly nineteen feet long. 

These sea monsters are not the only crocodiles Cape York 
produces. The "billabongs" the fresh water ponds and waterholes 
near Normanton provide a perfect breeding place for the Australian 
fresh water crocodiles as well, and a few days later Norman Smith 
took us to a place where they were still plentiful. For unlike the 
marine crocodile, the Australian fresh water crocodile is not hunted 
for his leather and is in no danger of extermination. 

As well as filming these crocodiles, Michaela and I were anxious 
to capture a few of them. We had half promised some to a friend in 
Southern Australia who was planning a crocodile farm on the lines 
of the alligator farms of Florida. So we took a couple of nets with 



us to tlie billabong, and squelched our way across the mud to where 
we could see a couple of crocodiles basking in the sun. 

The estuary where we had spent the day waiting for our marine 
crocodile had been bad enough, but this was unspeakable. In addi- 
tion to the flies, the mosquitoes and the stench of decaying vegeta- 
tion, three cows had got caught in the mud several weeks before, 
and now their carcases were quietly putrefying, half buried in the 
congealed mud. 

But the sight of the crocodiles soon took our minds off the smell, 
for there were far more of them than we had ever expected. They 
were five to seven feet long and, in the first few throws of the net, 
we found that they were surprisingly easy to catch. 

It was this that was our undoing, for we soon became absurdly 
carried away by success. Instead of being content with the few 
crocodiles we had originally wanted, we went on a sort of 
crocodile catcher's orgy. Soon we were taking off most of our 
clothes and wading into the mud after them, despite the smell and 
the sharp fresh water mussel shells that cut our feet and legs. 

We really were extremely foolish. These crocodiles may have 
been fairly small, but with one snap of their jaws they could easily 
deprive you of an arm. Despite this, we were soon following 
Norman Smith's example, and pulling them ashore by the snout. By 
the end of the day we had over sixty. We had not expected to catch 
anything like this number, and by then were so carried away by 
our success that we scarcely gave a thought to how we were 
going to look after them, much less to how we were going to get 
diem all die way back to Southern Australia. 

Instead we loaded them aboard Norman Smith's truck, and 
drove them back to our camp, where we tied them up for the night 
by putting a rope around their middles and attaching them to every 
available tree around the camp. 

It was not until the middle of the night when the first of the 
crocodiles slipped his rope and came blundering through our tent 
that we had our first doubts of die wisdom of our day's work. 
Several more escaped during the night, and by the morning we 
decided that we had had enough. If our Southern Australian friend 
really needed fresh water crocodiles, he had better come and fetch 



them for himself. So we went round our remaining crocodiles, 
one by one, cutting them loose and then watching gratefully as they 
waddled back in the direction of the odoriferous billabong. 

After our brief visit to the crocodiles, we travelled north up the 
Cape York peninsula, filming as we went, and making the most of 
our chances of observing the rich variety of the local fauna. What I 
found particularly fascinating about this remote part of Australia 
was that it provided an almost classic object lesson on the dangers of 
indiscriminately importing foreign species into countries that are 
not prepared for them. 

Originally, Australia possessed no destructive carnivores of its 
own, and a wonderful fauna must have flourished of small mouse- 
sized and squirrel-sized marsupial mammals. But here in Cape 
York I could see the way the descendants of the common domestic 
cats, imported by the early settlers, had already begun to work havoc 
with this small marsupial population. These cats appeared to be 
doing so much damage that it seemed to me that they must 
ultimately result in the total destruction of the defenceless small 

Whenever I see a hollow tree, I usually make a point of looking 
to see if there are any animals inside. Whenever I did this in Cape 
York, nine times out of ten a pair of green eyes would glare out at 
me belonging to an enormous tabby or ginger cat. These cats 
looked like any well-fed suburban pet torn, but were actually as 
savage as the wildest of wild cats, and were said to be virtually 
impossible to tame again. 

For some reason Australia seems to be free of many of the germs 
and bacteria that, in other countries, usually prevent foreign species 
establishing themselves. Because of this not only cats, but descend- 
ants of many other species, thoughtlessly brought into Australia, 
have finally escaped and settled themselves, usually to the 
detriment of the existing Australian fauna. 

This does not merely apply to the rabbits and wild dogs that have 
been such a plague in parts of the country. Australia now has a 
sizeable wild population of horses, pigs, goats and even camels and 
wild buffalo. 

During our trip to Cape York, our filming was not confined to 



the animals. We also spent several weeks with the aborigines, 
filming their customs and unique way of life. We saw the way they 
hunted wallabies by driving them for miles across open country 
until they passed an ambush of men waiting for them with spears. 
This was a scene Michaela refused to watch, but I thought it should 
be recorded on film. This was not hunting for sport, but for much- 
needed food. I could not help admiring the marksmanship of the 
aborigines, and the skill with which the hunt was organised. 

But the side of aborigine life that interested us most was the 
children. The first thing we noticed about them was their cheerful- 
ness and talkativeness since it provided such a contrast to the almost 
excessive seriousness of most African children who have adult 
responsibility thrust on them so early in their life. Here the children 
were remarkably carefree, constantly laughing and chattering among 
themselves, and we spent some time filming their games which must 
have been handed on from generation to generation and were 
surprisingly complex. The most interesting of them were hunting 
games in which the children imitated turtles or wallabies with the 
most lifelike skill, whilst in another game one child played the part 
of a falcon swooping on to the nest of another bird. 

Of course there are few aborigines these days that have not been 
touched by civilisation in one form or another, but I had not under- 
stood quite how quickly they adopt the standards and prejudices of 
the white man until we had left Cape York and reached the town of 

It was then that I realised that it would be useful if we could 
shoot some general scenes of groups of aborigines, to act as establish- 
ing shots for the film we had akeady made in Cape York. The shots 
were not enough to go back to Cape York for, and I was going to 
forget about them, when an Australian friend told me that at a 
small nearby town he knew local farmers who employed casual 
aborigine labour. 

These men were real aborigines who had lived most of their 
lives in their tribes and who came into the farms for short periods 
when the farmers needed extra hands. When we spoke to them 
they said that they knew all their tribal dances, and would be quite 
willing to perform them before our cameras. The only trouble 



was that we soon found that they insisted on keeping their shirts 
and trousers on. 

This was clearly no use for the film, but no amount of talking 
would make them take them off for their dance. By this time I was 
getting exasperated, and finally said, "Don't be ridiculous. Why are 
you so worried about taking your clothes off? There's nothing 
wrong in nakedness. It's the proper way for your dances to be 

But this had no effect on them at all, and finally I thought that 
the best argument of all would be that of example. 

"Look," L said, "just to show you that there's nothing to be 
ashamed of in nakedness, I will take my own trousers off first." 

This I proceeded to do. They watched me with shocked amaze- 
ment. Then one of them began laughing, and soon this entire group 
of aborigines was standing round me chuckling away. I hurriedly 
pulled my trousers on again and decided that this was one scene the 
film would have to do without. 

It was during the time we were in Australia that a young Queens- 
land cameraman, called Des Bartlett, came to work for us. He shot 
most of the footage that went into our Australian films, and made an 
important contribution to our work in New Guinea. But we had no 
idea that he would be staying with us up to the present day, becom- 
ing our close friend as well as our collaborator. 

He was with us, of course, when we flew back to the East Coast 
of Australia to make our second film on the Great Barrier Reef. 
When I had planned the trip I had arranged to meet, on the Barrier 
Reef, Noel Monkman and his wife. Noel, who is himself an ex- 
cellent photographer and movie-cameraman, is perhaps the greatest 
living authority on the Barrier Reef and its fauna. Our schedule 
was planned so that we arrived on the Barrier Reef on one of the 
two occasions of the year when the tides are at their greatest. At this 
time at low tide huge areas of the great reef are suddenly exposed, 
and you are able to walk for miles over stretches of coral that are 
normally hidden beneath the Pacific. This gave us a chance to 
film the entire submarine world that was suddenly thrust on view. 

I was afraid by now that we were falling behind on the six 



month time-table I had set, so to catch up lost time we hired an old 
Catalina flying boat. This also gave us a spectacular view of the Reef, 
and nothing had quite prepared me for its size and endless variety. 
There would be the dark outline of the islands, fringed with sand 
and bearing occasional coconut palms. Beyond would lie the coral, 
beneath the sea except for the short hours of low tide, and this would 
be of every imaginable colour from olive greens and purples 
through to the darkest blues. 

When we had finished filming on the Reef, we prepared for the 
third and most hazardous part of our journey the expedition to 
New Guinea. Michaela and I were both looking forward to this 
more than to any other part of our journey. We had arranged to 
stay at a place called Kup, in the Wahgi Valley, in the heart of the 
still largely unexplored mountain hinterland of New Guinea, which 
is an Australian mandate. From what we heard, this was one of the 
few places remaining in the world where civilisation had still not 
penetrated, and where we would be free to study a primitive people 
who had allowed the last ten thousand years of history to pass them 

The Wahgi Valley can only be reached by plane. So we 
chartered an old Norseman aircraft, loaded our equipment aboard, 
and then spent the next three and a half hours wondering whether 
we were ever going to reach Kup in one piece. 

Every flying trip in New Guinea is an adventure, and later we 
almost became used to it, but that first flight was a nightmare. 
Below us lay the most tormented countryside I had ever seen, a 
place of abrupt hills and sudden valleys, covered in dense jungle and 
shrouded in a low blanket of cloud. The plane would roar inland, 
up one of the valleys, just skimming the tops of the trees, and all the 
time just managing to keep below cloud level. 

The farther we went, the worse it got and I soon had the feeling 
that we were flying along an endless funnel as the floor of the valleys 
rose and the ceiling of cloud came continually lower. Before long 
ice began forming on the carburettor. Eevery few minutes the 
engine would sputter and stop. Quite unconcernedly, the pilot 
would point the plane's nose down towards the jungle beneath to 



keep the propeller turning until die engine picked up and started 
firing again. 

Finally we did reach Wahgi Valley and the pilot brought us 
nonchalantly down on to the precarious ironing board of a landing 
strip that had been cut on a narrow ledge on the top of a steep hill- 
side. Because of the jungle there was no runway to spare at Kup. 

As soon as we stepped out of the plane we realised the sort of 
climate we had come to. It was either damp and foggy or stiflingly 
hot. It was unhealthy and insect-infested, whilst the thick cloud that 
almost always seemed to swirl above the valleys stopped the sun- 
light reaching the dank jungle beneath. 

The valley had been discovered from the air less than twenty 
years before and the ways of living of its inhabitants had not 

The most striking thing about our villagers, as with most New 
Guinea people, was their passionate addiction to self-decoration. 
The men carried this to fantastic lengths. With the weird objects 
they thrust through their noses and the elaborate head-dresses they 
contrived for themselves out of the skins and feathers of the local 
birds of paradise they appeared, at first sight, as fearsome as any 
tribes dreamed up in the feverish imagination of a Hollywood 

We found the appearance of our tribesmen was slightly mis- 
leading. To all of us they were most charming and friendly, and 
these stone-age primitives, with their stone axes on their shoulders, 
showed a love of flowers and an instinct for growing them that struck 
us as remarkably civilised. When we went visiting to neighbouring 
villages we would find that fresh flowers had been picked and 
scattered on the last mile or so of the trail leading into the village, 
as a sign of welcome. I found this love of flowers quite astonishing 
in a stone-age tribe, and saw it as differentiating them quite sharply 
from most of the other primitive peoples I had met. 

Of course it is difficult to generalise about the people of New 
Guinea. The country is so broken up with its mountain ranges and 
ravines that there is nothing like the contact between the people in 
one area and the next that you find in an open country like Australia. 
As a result die tribes vary enormously. In one valley there is a race 



of pygmies. In the next there might easily be people twice their 
size, and since the people in the valleys beyond were always 
mysterious and hostile and unknown, it is easy enough to under- 
stand why such anti-social conduct as head-hunting and cannibalism 

While we were there this sort of inter-tribal distrust and hostility 
was still common enough. To tell the truth, there was not over- 
much control of the people in the interior and nobody wishes to 
establish relations with a neighbour whose primary ambition is to 
add your head to his collection of trophies. 

Des Bartlett found out a great deal about head-hunting when he 
went to stay on his own among the Sepik River people. This was 
in the very centre of head-hunting country and from what I learned 
from him and from tribesmen from outside the Wahgi Valley, I 
discovered that the motives for this unpleasant activity were not 
exactly what I had expected. 

It seems that head-hunting derives from a long-standing tradition 
in this part of the world that you gain prestige by being able to 
prove that you have been responsible for the deaths of a number of 
other people. This is all that the possession of a head signifies. It 
is in no sense a proof of valour or of manly victory over an enemy. 
The head of a woman or a baby carries just as much prestige as the 
head of a fully grown warrior. Any fond father in this area who 
wishes his son to start out in life with all the advantages he himself 
has enjoyed goes to a neighbouring village and actually buys a child. 
He brings the child home, quite unconcernedly ties it up some- 
where in the garden, gives his son a knife or an axe and tells him to 
kill it, so that in his tenderest years he may acquire the prestige of 
having a head on his belt. 

Mercifully this sort of thing is dying out, but although I found 
it repellent, I could not bring myself to believe that the primitive- 
ness of these people was any argument for trying suddenly to thrust 
them headlong into the twentieth century. A situation similar to 
the one I had found in Bali could so easily develop; here was a 
simple, uncontaminated race, on the verge of the white man's pro- 
gress and civilisation. Their culture of course was rudimentary, in 
contrast with the rich culture of the Balinese, but there was even less 



hope of these people surviving happily if their traditions and way 
of life were suddenly kicked from under them. I could think of no 
occasion when a white race had come in contact with a primitive 
one like this and the primitive people had really benefited. It was all 
too easy to see the old pattern recurring. The white man's drink, 
his politics, his diseases would infect the people. Instead of pro- 
gressing they would degenerate; like the Red Indians of America 
and so many of the tribes of Africa, they could end up only as third 
class citizens of a world that had no real place for them. 

The Australian Government was making a praiseworthy effort 
to protect the valley against undue contact with the outside world, 
but I fear it is an attempt doomed to failure. Not even in New 
Guinea is it really possible to protect a primitive people on this 
scale, and the outside world is inexorably closing in on them. The 
Wahgi Valley akeady boasted an American missionary and had 
been visited by a small expedition from the American Museum of 
Natural History. 

But while the New Guinea people will almost certainly make a 
show of accepting some of the habits and culture of the white man, 
I believe that beneath their apparent acceptance they will tend to 
remain much as they always did. 

I remember a story the good Catholic Bishop of Papua told us 
about some of his parishioners. Michaela and I stayed with him on 
Yule Island and he became a close friend of ours. One evening 
when we were talking after dinner, he told us how he had found, to 
his sorrow, that some of the people of his diocese were still practising 
occasional cannibalism. No bishop likes to find out this sort of 
thing about his flock, so he descended on Yule Island, preached a 
stern episcopal warning against the faithful eating the flesh of their 
brothers and departed with the protestations of the islanders that 
never, never again would they think of eating human flesh. 

Shortly after this the villagers were presented with something 
of a dilemma. For no sooner had the bishop sailed back to New 
Guinea in his motor launch Yule Island is one of the small islands 
off the Papuan coast than a neighbouring non-Christian tribe, 
with whom they happened to be on good terms at the moment, 
arrived with a peace offering. It was a human arm and for any ex- 



cannibal a human arm is still a tempting delicacy. Naturally they 
did not want to offend the other tribe by refusing a princely gift, but 
neither did they want to offend their bishop. After much thought, 
they found a solution to satisfy everyone. 

They gave the arm to their children to eat. In this way they 
would not offend their neighbours. The could honestly tell their 
bishop next time he called that they had not eaten human flesh, and 
a good arm would not have gone to waste. 

In the fend the film we made on New Guinea concentrated almost 
entirely on its people, for there were very few animals on the 
island. By far the most interesting of these are the island's birds of 
paradise, but many of the species which survived the cruel fashion 
for bird of paradise feathers in Europe and America at the beginning 
of this century are now threatened with extinction through extensive 
deforestation in the areas where they breed. 

We made several attempts to film the wonderful birds by build- 
ing large platforms in the forest close to trees they were known to 
visit, but although we spent much time patiently waiting twenty 
feet above ground, we never did get a really satisfactory shot of one. 

Apart from the birds of paradise, the animal on the island that 
interested me most was the pig. Pigs are not indigenous to the 
island and I have never discovered when or how they were intro- 
duced, but among the Wahgi Valley people the pig has become a 
vital part of the people and their economy. So much so that the pig 
is treated quite literally as a member of the family, and a piglet often 
gets more attention than a child. It always amused me to watch the 
congregation in the mission hut at Kup on a Sunday morning and to 
see a New Guinea matron sitting at the back during the sermon 
with a child at one breast and a baby pig at the other. 

It is this devotion to their pigs that makes the New Guinea 
people's ultimate behaviour towards them so inexplicable. For one 
day, after a delay of a year or even longer, word would go round 
among the villages that a feast was to be held. At this feast the 
villagers would bring out the pigs that they had cared for so relig- 
iously for so long and butcher them. This would be done with 
extreme brutality. Then a great pit would be dug. A layer of nearly 
red-hot stones would be placed in the bottom. A layer of fresh 



green leaves would be put on the stones, then a layer of pigs be 
placed on top. Then more stones would be put in, then more leaves, 
then more pigs, until the pit was full. This would then be left 
to sizzle and steam for several hours, and when the pigs were cooked 
the villagers would indulge in an orgy of pig eating, devouring in 
one grand fling what it had taken them years to grow. 

For me the New Guinea people provided the most fascinating 
part of this entire journey to the Antipodes, and thanks to them we 
were able to finish our three films well within the six months we had 
set ourselves. 

But it was a pet that we picked up just before we left Kup that made 
our flight back to New York one of the most eventful plane journeys 
we have ever got involved in. It all began when Michaela and I 
were watching a beautiful sulphur-crested cockatoo flying around 
the top of a very high tree near one of the platforms we had built 
to watch the birds of paradise. The cockatoo kept disappearing into 
a hole high up in the branches and from the sounds which we 
could plainly hear, it was obvious that she was feeding a fledgling 

I pointed out the hole in the tree to one of the young village 
boys who was with us. He thought we wanted the bird, so before 
we could stop him he had swung his way up into the tree like a 
monkey; we suddenly saw him sixty feet above us with a tiny, 
squawking baby cockatoo in his hands. There was no way of telling 
him to put it back, so when he brought it down to us, still squawking 
and desperately flapping its wings, we felt there was nothing to do 
but adopt it. 

I think we have never had a more amusing or lovable creature 
as a pet. He was far from helpless and very alert. We decided that 
for safety he should sleep at night in the hen-house in which our 
chickens were kept; being an excellent mimic, like most cockatoos, 
he soon picked up their language. He also picked up a few words 
from us and every morning when we let them out, the chickens 
would come strutting out first, full of their own self-importance, 
while the cockatoo would trail behind them, blatantly making fun 
of them by producing all the sounds a hen makes when it has just 



laid an egg and interspersing them with an accurate imitation of 
Michaela saying, "Hullo, hullo. How are you to-day ?" 

Apart from this, the experiment of keeping our cockatoo 
with the chickens was not too great a success because he was so 
difficult to feed. Michaela had fed him by hand when he was very 
young, and he insisted on this continuing. Michaela used to take 
far more trouble over feeding him than I would have done: he was 
fed mainly on boiled rice, and his feeding habits were deplorable. 
He never swallowed things properly; his boiled rice was always 
dripping out of his mouth on to the feathers of his chest, which were 
soon so matted and disgusting that Michaela finally had to make 
him a bib. Once he had seen it he would never be parted from it, 
and at every meal his bib would have to go on before he would 
agree to let Michaela start feeding him. 

We had taken it for granted that before we left we would release 
our cockatoo in the forest where we had found him. We were in 
New Guinea to take pictures, not to collect cockatoos and besides 
there are immense complications these days in taking animals with 
you in a modern aircraft half-way round the world. But although 
we took him into the forest several times, he would not leave us. He 
had become too dependent and we knew that without his bib and 
without Michaela he would probably starve. Clearly we would 
have to take him with us. So I found a nondescript-looking wooden 
box for him. It had a small flap in front, and some film labels on 
the side, and I put the cockatoo inside, making sure that there was 
enough room in front for him to put his nose through to get some 
fresh air. 

I was not too worried about getting him through the customs in 
New York as restrictions there were not too severe, but I was 
worried about Paris. We had to change aircraft there and this meant 
a wait of two hours at Orly. I was hoping that there would be a 
simple switch of baggage from one plane to another, and that the 
French authorities would take no notice of us as we were transit 
passengers. But when we got to Paris something went wrong. The 
New York plane was delayed, all our luggage was piled in the 
customs hall, and along came the most inquisitive customs man I 
have ever faced in my life. 



He went through everything we possessed cameras, personal 
effects, clothes and in the end inevitably caught sight of the wooden 

"What's in that box?" he asked. 

"Oh, a bird," I said, vaguely. 

"What kind of a bird?" 

"Oh, a sort of pigeon," said Michaela. 

It might have been all right if the cockatoo had been as discreet 
as we were, but he chose this very minute to stick his head through 
the flap in his box. He eyed the customs man disapprovingly with 
his beady black eye. Up went his crest, and he said, "Hullo, hullo, 
how are you this morning?" 

The customs man obviously was no animal lover. He turned 

"You take me for a fool," he shouted. " You think I don't know 
a pigeon. This is no pigeon. This is a parrot and there are laws 
against bringing parrots into France. I'll have this bird of yours 
destroyed at once." 

I tried to calm him down, but only seemed to make matters 

"I'll give you a pigeon," shouted the customs officer; "people 
like you should be taught a lesson." 

It was at this point that Michaela decided things had gone far 
enough. When she wants to she can make an enormous amount of 
noise and she obviously felt that if anyone needed a lesson it was the 
customs officer, so she shouted back at him that we were on an 
important expedition and that if he so much as laid a finger on her 
bird he would never hear the last of it. 

It takes a stronger man that that customs officer to stand up to 
Michaela, and I could see him beginning to wilt. Obviously he was 
scared that he might get into some sort of trouble, but a crowd had 
collected, he had taken his stand, and it was more than his dignity 
was worth to budge from it. 

By then the whole situation had turned into a complete farce. I 
could hardly keep a straight face and the cockatoo kept poking his 
head out of his box to say, "Good morning, good morning. How are 
you to-day?" 



Michaela was at her best, loudly proclaiming that she would 
cut her own throat, right there in the middle of Orly's customs hall 
if anything was done to her bird, and pointing out how embarrassing 
this would be to the French authorities. She was collecting a good 
deal of sympathy from the crowd. 

"You tell us that you cannot allow this bird through," I said to 
the customs officer. "Who can then?" 

"Nobody/' he replied dramatically, "except the Minister of 
Agriculture in person/' 

"Very well," I said, " we must get the Minister of Agriculture 
on the phone." 

"Very well," said the customs officer, "we will." 

Of course none of us believed we would ever get through to the 
Minister, but we dialled his number and incredibly, within a couple 
of minutes, I was speaking to him in person. 

The conversation that followed was pure Marx Brodiers. 

"Hullo, this is Annand Denis/* 

"Hullo, this is the Minister of Agriculture/' 

"I am at Orly Airport. I am having trouble with my cockatoo/* 

"I am the Minister of Agriculture. Cockatoos are not my 

I tried to explain what was happening, but the poor man became 
more puzzled and exasperated every minute. 

"If the law says you are not to bring a cockatoo into France, the 
law must be right and there is nothing I can do about it." 

"Monsieur le Ministre," I said, "be human. This cockatoo 
belongs to my wife. She is devoted to it. In an hour's time we shall 
be in an aircraft on its way to New York, but if anything happens 
now to that, my wife will never forgive me or you or France or the 
French government. Just consider what you're doing." 

At this, the Minister of Agriculture decided he had had enough. 

"Mr. Denis," he said limply, "get yourself, your wife and your 
wretched cockatoo on to the next plane to New York. But if you 
ever come through Paris again with a cockatoo, God help you." 


23 Return to Africa 

OUR return to America was to mark an entirely new episode in 
our lives, but it hardly felt like that when we arrived in New 
York. The city was wet and bitterly cold. We found ourselves 
longing for the sun before we had been there a week, so purely on 
impulse we took a plane down to Cuba and finally stayed there 
three months in a rented apartment on Malecon, putting together 
our material into three full-length films. Although we were spend- 
ing twelve hours a day editing film, both of us looked on this Cuban 
interlude as something of a holiday. We found the life of Havana 
much to our taste. We loved the food, the music and the people, 
and in those days an occasional shooting affray never seemed much 
to worry about. 

After three months in Cuba our work was finished, and we flew 
to New York to try and sell our three completed films. Once more 
I immediately found myself caught up in that endless delay and 
frustration that always dogs me when I have any dealings with film 
executives. One company thought the material was wonderful, 
then added that they would buy it only if I would consent to having 
my three films cut together into one. 

This I firmly refused to do although the price was good, and in 
an effort to find a market where my work would not be chopped 
about, I decided to bring the films to England. One of the first 
people to see them was Sir Michael Balcon, in those days head of 
Baling Studios. He liked the films and through him a deal was 
arranged almost at once. There was no talk of cutting or condensing 
the films. Baling Studios and the Rank Organisation agreed to dis- 
tribute them for me much as I had shot and edited them. 

It was now that chance began to work very hard in our favour. 



Just after we arrived, "Below the Sahara," the last film we had made 
for R.K.O., happened to be due for release in England. Quite 
casually, our good friend, David Jones, head of R.K.O. publicity in 
London, asked us whether we would mind giving a short talk and 
showing some film on television to boost the publicity for "Below 
the Sahara." Equally casually I agreed. David dug out some 
film extracts from my "Dark Rapture" and "Savage Splendour," 
and a few days later, on the 5th October, 1953, Michaela and I did 
our first television show in England a ten minute live interview 
with Peter Haigh, followed by twenty minutes of film. 

The public response was quite extraordinary. In all my years of 
film-making I had never known anything like it. A week or two 
later, at the request of Cecil Madden of the B.B.C., we did another 
half-hour programme on our own this time and on the strength 
of these two short appearances on television it seemed that we had 
become famous. The B.B.C. offered us a contract that would mean 
giving up films entirely and concentrating all our time on tele- 

This was all highly flattering, but there is something frighteningly 
unreal about being at the centre of this sort of overnight success and 
we had to think very hard about what we really wanted to do. If 
we accepted the B.B.C/s offer we knew we would be adopting an 
almost completely new way of life. Although, on the face of it, 
television work might sound very similar to the sort of thing I had 
been doing for years, the differences between working for television 
and for the cinema are immense. 

As dispassionately as possible we tried adding up the pros and 
cons of the two careers. 

The arguments against going into television were strong. 
We would have to work far harder and produce results far quicker 
than when we were filming for the cinema. In the past we had taken 
a year to a year and a half to produce a feature film. Now we knew 
we would have to organise ourselves to turn out half-hour films at 
the rate of one a month with the possibility of this being narrowed 
still further to one every three weeks. Also, in the cinema one was 
working for a medium that could and usually did pay big money. 
This was not true of television. 



The arguments for going into television were quite different. 
After the delays and disappointments of the previous months, the 
very idea of working for quick results was in itself a great attraction. 
We also knew that we would enjoy complete freedom to go where 
we liked and, within the broadest limits, to say what we wanted. 
There was much I wanted to say to the widest possible audience 
about conservation of wild life. The film companies, of course, 
were not really interested in this, but television offered us direct 
contact with millions of people and an opportunity, which no other 
medium could match, to make them interested in the things we 
loved and considered important* 

Of course these were early days in television and a lot of what 
we might be able to accomplish was still highly problematical, but 
for me the really deciding factor that made me choose television was 
that for the first time in my life I would be doing something that 
depended entirely on the two of us. Making films for Hollywood 
had always been something of a compromise and had never suited 
my temperament Once you have shot the film., a dozen people 
seem to step in the editors, the scriptwriters, the musical arrangers, 
die effects men and the best I could ever hope for was the dubious 
satisfaction of having had just one of the dozen fingers that finally 
went into that particular pie while I would bear the responsibility 
for all the assininities of a script which I would not even have had a 
chance to check. 

Now everything was to be under our control the shooting, the 
editing, the scripting and if something did not work there would 
be only ourselves to blame. 

I think Michaela's motives for choosing television were slightly 
different from mine. She was thinking of that plot of land outside 
Nairobi, and even before we had signed die contract with the 
B.B.C., she was trying to convince me that Nairobi would be the 
ideal spot for us to have our headquarters to operate from and pro- 
duce our films. At last, as she pointed out, we would be able to do 
what we had so long dreamed of. We could live in Africa, make our 
home there and work as we had always wanted to with animals and 
wild life. Real freedom would be ours at last. 

Not that Michaela had to try very hard to convince me. I 



was as ready to live in Africa as she was, but the dream took a long 
time to turn into reality, and signing our contract with the B.B.C. 
was only a beginning. First we actually had to get to Africa, and I 
found that there was a considerable difference between going 
there on an expedition as I had in the past, and going there with a 
wife bent on making a home. This time our disagreements about 
packing were even greater than when we had been preparing to go 
to Australia and although I kept reminding Michaela that we still 
had no house, and only twenty-five acres of uncleared forest, 
she insisted on taking almost everything we possessed. 

Apart from this we were obviously going to need more equip- 
ment than I had ever taken on a normal expedition, if we were to 
do what I planned and actually turn out finished films in Africa. 
We needed projectors and Moviola machines to edit our films on. 
We had to have full-scale sound recording gear to record our com- 
mentaries for the programmes, and we would obviously need to 
add greatly to our movie and still camera equipment. 

Altogether there were a thousand and one tilings to think of, and 
it was not until after several months of feverish preparation 
that we arrived in Nairobi. Even then the rush continued. If 
anything, it grew worse as we started on our programmes. Luckily 
Des Bartlett was with us again, but none of us had reckoned quite 
how hard we would have to work to keep up to schedule. For that 
first year in Africa our very lives seemed to be divided between 
the Land-Rovers and the editing room. 

One week we would be down in the Serengeti, shooting a film 
on lions. The next we would be on the road for Entebbe and a 
feature on Lake Victoria. Then we would be back in Nairobi for a 
frantic fortnight, editing and scripting the films we had made before 
sending them on by air to London. There was scarcely time to 
think about building the house, let alone to get out to indulge in 
the luxury of consulting architects and builders. The house had to 
wait until we had more time to think about it. 

Even then, we always seemed to be picking up animals: from 
the very first we made it a rule never to turn away an animal that 
needed help. This in itself gave us our problems since any animal 
you cure or help seems instinctively to attach himself to you, and 



before long we found our family growing to include several 
unexpected newcomers. 

Some of them were hardly the kind you expect to make pets of. 
There was Voodoo the vulture for instance. We found Hm by 
chance when we were out filming. Michaela noticed a vulture 
sitting motionless on the ground about a quarter of a mile from our 
Land-Rover. The only thing that normally lures a vulture to the 
ground is a kill of some sort. We slowly drove over to investigate. 
To our surprise the vulture did not move as we approached. To 
our still greater surprise there was no sign of a kill or a dead 

"Look," said Michaela, "there's something wrong with Bis 
wing," and sure enough, we could see that the left wing drooped 
slightly. He made a pathetic attempt to fly as we got towards him, 
but despite the flurry of feathers he could not rise. When he realised 
it was useless to try to get away he seemed to accept us and stood 
patiently as Michaela stretched out the wing and I felt along it 
as gently as I could to find what was wrong. It was fractured. 
Vultures often are surprisingly foolhardy when they feed on the kill 
of another animal, and many times I have seen a lion charge diem 
to drive them away. I can only suppose that diis vulture had not 
got out of the way quickly enough. 

Whatever the cause it was clear that unless we set the wing as 
soon as possible this vulture's chances of survival were nil. So we 
lifted him on to the back seat and, trying not to jolt him more than 
we had to, drove back to camp. Normally a vulture is not a par- 
ticularly sociable bird as far as people are concerned, but the re- 
markable thing about this one was that he seemed to realise instinc- 
tively that we were trying to help him. We were careful to keep 
out of the way of his beak but he accepted everything \ve did for 
him with considerable patience. Back in camp we placed him on a 
table, and while Michaela held him, I set the wing and bandaged 
it to his body with a thin wooden splint 

This was the start of the long and agreeable friendship we had 
with Voodoo the vulture. It was Michaela who called him Voodoo 
and soon he would answer to his name and come waddling over with 
his bandaged wing whenever we called him. Once he had accepted 



us, he had no fear of anyone in the camp and wandered round, 
everlastingly on the search for any titbits he could find. 

I have always been annoyed by people who speak of the "ugli- 
ness" and the "evil faces" of vultures. For me they are among the 
most beautiful of birds and their action in flight is magnificent. 
This was particularly so with Voodoo. He stayed with us, living 
quite happily in camp when we were on safari, and once his wing 
had healed we had a chance to appreciate him for the exceptional 
bird he was. He was a hooded vulture with a wing span of nearly 
five feet and often when we were driving he would leave the Land- 
Rover and follow us, a tiny speck in the sky above. 

"That can't be Voodoo," Michaela would say, but when we had 
made camp the speck would come swooping down to us and 
Voodoo would be there ready to squabble with the dogs for his 
food when we cut up the meat for their evening meal. 

With Michaela and myself he was always remarkably gentle. He 
would never peck or misbehave, although he did have one habit 
that took some getting used to. This was to follow us whenever we 
were out walking and then suddenly swoop down on to our heads. 
With a smaller bird this would have been rather endearing, but with 
a fully grown vulture it can be extremely painful, especially as he 
would then try perching on our heads, holding on to our hair with 
his claws. 

Luckily he finally grew out of this provoking habit. Our 
success with Voodoo showed something I had long been aware of 
that there is no better way of taming an animal than to help it after 
it has been injured. It is surprising how an animal that will normally 
snarl and bite will accept you while you are treating it, and be 
grateful afterwards. 

This does not mean that you no longer need to exercise elemen- 
tary caution with an injured animal you are treating. Only recently 
I was setting the broken leg of a large secretary bird that had been 
found injured by some Africans, and brought to us as a matter of 
course, in the expectation of some reward. I had never thought of a 
secretary bird as being particularly dangerous, but while I was 
fixing its splint it kicked out with its good leg with surprising 



violence. Its foot caught the side of my face and I was badly bruised 
for many days afterwards. 

It was while we were on safari that we adopted the most pathetic 
of all the animals we have ever looked after. 

We were camped near Malindi, filming mudskippers and the 
other strange creatures on the coastal mud-flats near the Indian 

I had a new short-wave transceiver, with which I could hear 
police calls and eavesdrop on quite a number of private transmitters. 
Early one morning I picked up a call, apparently from some tele- 
phone men installing a phone line somewhere between Malindi and 
Lamu, who were talking to their headquarters. A tiny baby ele- 
phant, which they said was only thirty inches high, had wandered into 
their camp. They had chased it away, but it had come back. It had 
been there three days by now and they had nothing to feed it with. 
What should they do ? This was too much for either of us to resist. 

Two hours later we had found the camp, and there, sure enough, 
was the elephant; and there also were the telephone men, glad 
enough to have us take him off their hands. He was the most ap- 
pealing infant. He was actually thirty-two inches high, a little taller 
than the men had said, about the size of a St. Bernard dog; but he 
was like a fully grown elephant in miniature except for the furry 
down still covering his forehead and most of his body. It is rare to 
find an elephant abandoned as young as this, and its mother had 
almost certainly been shot. This meant that for the three days it had 
been in the camp it had had nothing to eat, apart from the con- 
densed milk of which the men had somehow forced a little down his 
throat, but which certainly does not suit baby elephants. As soon as 
we saw it, we could tell that it was ravenous. 

Had we been nearer Nairobi, this would not have been such a 
problem. But here in the middle of the bush it was difficult to see 
just what we could do. Clearly if we did not get it some food within 
a few hours, it would die, but how were we to find any ? 

Luckily, Michaela remembered that there was a dairy farm at 
Malindi, a good hour's drive away along the coast. There, at least, 
there would be sufficient supplies of cows' milk to satisfy the constant 
thirst of a growing baby elephant. 



The difficulty now was actually getting the elephant to the farm. 
We had driven up in our old Dodge saloon car certainly not the 
sort of transport one normally associates with carrying elephants, 
even when they are thirty-two inches high. But there was no 
alternative if the baby was to survive. So I lifted him into the back 
of the car I can actually boast that I, single-handed, have carried an 
elephant and we climbed aboard ourselves. I drove and Michaela 
courageously shared the back seat with our passenger. 

He was not an ideal travelling companion. He forgot his man- 
ners. He squealed: beslobbered: he rolled about. He put his trunk 
down the back of my neck. Michaela suffered worst, for while she 
was trying to hold on to him and prevent him climbing on to me > 
she was being buffeted and trodden on until she was black and blue 
all over. By the time we reached the dairy farm it felt as if we had 
driven half-way across Africa. 

Even then our troubles were far from over. How do you artifi- 
cially feed a week-old elephant? No baby's bottle would be big 
enough and he was too stubborn to open his mouth and allow us to 
pour the milk in. We tried all sorts of ways to persuade him to 
drink; finally I thought there was only one way left. I noticed a 
large tin bath hanging up in a barn, and asked if we could borrow it. 
We half filled it with milk and getting all the help we could we 
lifted the elephant into it bodily. He tried to splash and kick it over 
but we held on tight and finally, by pushing his head right into the 
milk, we persuaded him to drink. When we drove back to Nairobi 
two days later, the baby elephant and his tin bath were inseparable 
and he was drinking milk by the gallon every day. 

During these early days the nearest we ever got to building our 
house was when we would pitch our tent on the land we had 
bought at Langata and spend a few days there filming the game in 
what we told ourselves would one day be our garden. Then gradu- 
ally we began to adjust to the pace of our new existence. Life was 
not quite such a rush. We found we could organise our filming a 
month and even two months in advance and inevitably we started 
thinking about our house in earnest. 

As soon as Michaela and I discussed the form it should take it 



was clear that we would both have to make some serious com- 
promises if we were to avoid building two separate and totally 
different houses. For Michaela loves space. She loves gilt and marble 
and rich carpets and if she had had her way she would have built a 
sort of oriental palace. 

My ideas were the exact opposite. For me a house was a purely 
functional thing like a boat or a taxi. I wanted something as simple 
and as properly adapted to the African climate as I could find. So 
my idea was to use the style of the South African circular rondavel 
house, a traditional African building of mud and thatch that was 
easy to build and miraculously cool in the hot season. I thought of 
having several of these rondavels and joining them with passages to 
give us the space we needed. 

Michaela and I would discuss this problem endlessly, and it was 
soon clear to me that unless one or the other of us did something 
decisive we would go on living in tents and hotels to the end of our 
days. So one evening, when we were staying in Nairobi during a 
break between programmes, I announced to Michaela that I was 
going to design the house. 

"But you can't design a house," she said. 

"Why not?" I asked. 

"Because you're not an architect," she replied with profound 
female logic. 

I, who have spent my life accomplishing things for which I have 
no professional qualifications, was not going to accept that. I had 
never designed a house before, but then, until that year, I had never 
made a film for television either. So that very evening I took some 
squared paper, a pencil and a ruler, and proceeded to become an 

The main problem, as far as I was concerned, was to work out 
some compromise between Michaela's ideas and my own, so I 
started with the idea of a living-room. Here I had to agree that 
Michaela's plans had a lot to be said for them, so I decided that 
thirty feet by twenty feet would be a reasonable measurement to 
start with. On my paper I measured off twenty squares in one direc- 
tion and thirty in the other. We were building for a country with 
plenty of space and I thought that the house should reflect something 



of the same spirit, so I drew in a good big staircase at one end of the 
living-room, placed a large dining-room beyond and ran a veranda 
along the side of the house that would face the hills, to make the 
most of the view. 

Another compromise we had to make in the design was between 
planning it as a place to live in and a place to work in. JVlichaela was 
interested in having a house. I was more concerned with providing 
garage space for four or five cars and room for an office, for a film- 
cutting room, for a sound-recording studio, and for storage space 
for the mass of equipment we had already begun to accumulate. 

The problem was to keep the two worlds of ours from inter- 
fering with each other and somehow to combine comfort and good 
living with an efficient headquarters for a complete television pro- 
duction unit. 

As far as I could see, the only possible solution was to place the 
living-room and the dining-room on the first floor, whilst downstairs 
the entire ground floor would become a working area where we 
could edit and record in peace. By placing the living-rooms 
upstairs they would also enjoy the advantage of more light and 

Once I had started on this plan of mine I became quite en- 
thusiastic about it, and was soon deciding that instead of walls be- 
tween the dining-room and living-room, I would have two large 
arches to make the whole first floor appear even more spacious and 
airy than ever. 

It is one thing to amuse yourself for an evening designing your 
dream house: it is quite another to convince a down-to-earth 
builder that the design is a possibility. So to be on the safe side, I 
took the plan to a good architect I knew in Nairobi. 

I was expecting him to say, "Ah, yes, Mr. Denis. Very interest- 
ing, but we must be practical, mustn't we?" And proceed to re- 
design the whole place. Instead, he took my slightly dog-eared 
sketch and looked at it without saying anything. Then he turned it 
upside down and still went on looking at it. 

"Seems all right," he said at last. "Seems like a good house to 
me. Let's build it." 

So build it we did, almost exactly as I planned it originally; 




Who.will move first? 

The only way to get the baby elephant to a sufficient supply 
of cow's milk was in the back of our car 

Voodoo, the hooded vulture. "I have always been annoyed by 
people who speak of the 'ugliness and the 'evil' faces of vultures" 

Outside our house near Nairobi before setting off to make another 
television film and on safari 

The author with Michaela on the upstairs veranda of the house which 

he designed for them 

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AMmhou Stork, one of the two menaces to newly hatched 

bah crocodiles 

Crocodile. "One of the things we wanted to find out was the 
role the mother played in hatching the eggs 

A Monitor Lizard, the other threat to young crocodiles, abori to 
take an egg. Below , the camouflaged raft built for filming crocodiles 


and the strange thing is that although the house grew out of a 
compromise, Michaela and I have enjoyed living in it so much that 
if ever we had to build another, I think we would have it almost 
exactly the same. 

It was not until we started building that we really understood 
what a perfect site we had found. We chose the highest point on the 
ridge and sited the house so that it faced right across the valley- 
Building was easy here. The rocky outcrop we stood on came almost 
to the surface, so that there was no problem of drainage or founda- 
tions for the house. At the same time, although this area was so 
unspoiled, we were close enough to Nairobi to be able to draw on 
the city for our light and water. 

With great excitement we watched our walls rise. They were 
built from stone cut from an old quarry we had found on our own 
land. For the floors, the African carpenters used the local mvule 
wood, a wood that polishes well and reveals a rich, beautifully 
clear grain. When the walls were finished, we found the texture of 
the rough stone so satisfying that we would not have it covered 
with plaster. Instead we had the walls painted white, inside the 
house and out. 

For although I had given up my idea of a rondavel house, I did 
not want this building of ours to turn into a weak imitation of a 
traditional English house, any more than I wanted the garden to 
look like the majority of Kenya gardens a neatly cultivated comer 
of old England. 

So we had the house roofed with the rough local tiles that have 
mellowed now into a delicate shade of orange, and when we had 
had an area of twenty yards around the house cleared as a protection 
against snakes, we moved in. 

We soon found that the best months to be in the house were in 
January and early February. By then the rains have finished. The 
stream is still full, the forest is green, and Michaela and I always try 
to arrange our safaris so that we are home at this time every year to 
enjoy the house and everything it has to offer. Although we are 
practically on the equator, the house is over 5,000 feet above sea 
level, and whilst it gets hot at this time, we never find it oppressive, 
as it would be nearer die coast. 



When we are home during these months, we begin the day 
early. I like to rise at six and put in at least two hours work in die 
film-cutting room before breakfast. We breakfast at eight usually 
on the veranda and I always enjoy the superb fruit like paw-paw, 
mango and golden grenadillas that Michaela buys for breakfast from 
the local Kikuyu farmers. 

After breakfast we work hard for the rest of the morning, but 
we have both got into the habit when we are at home of taking the 
dogs for a long walk after lunch, down through our forest to the 

In July and August the weather changes. It is often cloudy then 
with the sort of temperatures you expect in a normal English sum- 
mer. If we are at home then we sometimes find the evenings a little 
chilly, but although I actually had two open fireplaces built into the 
dining-room and the living-room, we have never used them yet and 
hardly suppose we ever will. 

Of course, once the house was built, it soon became a matter for 
one of those unacknowledged husband and wife struggles that go on 
in even the best regulated households. Michaela, being a woman, 
naturally wanted the house as neat and as elegant as possible and was 
always buying expensive antique furniture and oriental rugs for it, 
from the auction rooms in Nairobi. 

I, on the other hand, still try to maintain a certain amount of 
contempt for anything as self-indulgent as a house of my own. I 
miss the wonderfully unencumbered sense of the old days when there 
was never a house to claim our loyalties, and we were free at a 
moment's notice to pack our bags and be off to the other end of the 

I suppose that the truth is that we have both converted each 
other a little. I hate admitting it but there are times when I enjoy 
living at home enormously, whilst Michaela is usually as excited as 
I am at the challenge of a new safari. Meanwhile, the chief con- 
cession she gained from me has been over the garden. Both of us, 
of course, intend to keep the forest as it always has been, but recently 
Michaela has been paying more and more attention to the area 
immediately around the house. From being a stretch of grass cleared 
to keep the snakes away, it has been rapidly turning into the most 



elaborate of tropical gardens. To start with she was content with 
planting an occasional bush of hibiscus or oleander or frangipani, but 
these were soon doing so well that her ambitions as a gardener 
began to grow with them. Recently she has begun laying out 
ornamental ponds between the house and the road. They are very 
handsome ponds with water lilies and banana palms and banks of 
great papyrus reeds, so that if you come up the drive when the yellow 
thorn is in bloom and the bougainvillaea is ablaze against the 
wall, you will think you have come to something more exotic 
than the headquarters of a hard-working film and television 

But we built our house near Nairobi because we thought it would 
be a good centre for our work and it has been as a centre for work 
that it has really justified itself. Without it we could never have 
made the films. We have acquired so much equipment that it makes 
me shudder to think how we could ever get it transported if we lived 
in London and had to have it packed and put aboard a plane every 
time we decided to go off abroad. Even so we never seem to have 
anything like enough space for the camping equipment and the 
trucks, the cameras and the recording gear that at times look as if 
they are going to invade the entire house. 

Also, if we did not have the house, I have no idea what we 
would do with our animals. For since we have lived there we have 
become a sort of orphanage for every imaginable animal in the district 
from stray cats to eagles, and from sick pet monkeys to a baby hyena. 
Some animals stay on with us. Others go back to the wild. But all 
the animals seem to enjoy living here and the house obviously gives 
them all a sense of security that they would miss if ever we had to 
leave. Michaela's mongoose, Minnie, owns the veranda. The 
giant South American ant-eater sleeps in the dining-room, and the 
dogs regard the living-room as their own domain. 

Meanwhile, the longer we have lived here, the more Michaela 
and I have come to love this most beautiful of all the regions of 
Africa. We travel as much as ever, quite apart from our safaris, and 
usually have to get to London and Paris and New York at least 
once a year on some business or other. But we never feel we want 
to stay there, 



We have built our life here in Africa. It is the cities that now 
seem unreal and whenever we have visited diem the most exciting 
moment of the journey always comes when we catch sight of the 
white walls of our house standing out against the valley, and know 
that we are really back in Africa again. 


24 A Television Series is Made 

HERE is one question I am always being asked and never really 
JL know how to answer how do we make our television pro- 
grammes ? Not that there is any particular mystery about the way 
we work. I do have a few tricks of the trade which I have picked 
up over the years and prefer to keep to myself, but these are not the 
reasons I find these questions so difficult. 

There is no point in my answering with a lengthy description of 
the equipment we use, since I have almost made a fetish of keeping 
our equipment down to a minimum. Ever since I made my first 
film in Bali with an obsolete, wooden, hand-operated camera, I 
have always been reacting against the standard Hollywood idea that 
a good film depends on elaborate cameras and expensive apparatus. 
There is probably no one making regular films for television who 
uses less actual equipment than we do when we set off on safari. 

Our much-used Bell and Howell cameras are still carried along 
but most of our work is done with Des Bartlett's Arriflex cameras. 
Des uses them of course to photograph any scenes in which we 
appear. He also owns an incredible variety of still cameras; he 
seems to collect them as other people collect stamps. Nowadays we 
pay a great deal of attention to still photography a thing for which 
there was literally no time in our first years of television production 
and Des revels in this: his eagerness to take pictures is only 
matched by his reluctance to appear in them himself. Apart from 
the cameras, there are the tripods, the lenses, the light meters and 
the cans of exposed and unexposed cine film that we always keep 
in waterproof aluminium boxes. We also carry a pair of reflectors 
with us large plywood panels with aluminium paint on one side 



that can be stood in position around the more static subjects we 
film to reflect the sunlight on to them and lighten up the shadows. 

Two of our four Land-Rovers are equipped with thousand 
watt and fifteen hundred watt generators and straightforward port- 
able lighting equipment to enable us to light a simple scene. Apart 
from our two tape-recorders, this is virtually all the equipment we 

Another reason why I find questions about our technique of 
film-making so difficult to answer is that each film we make seems 
to call for a new set of rules and every animal for a different approach. 
There is never a great deal of sense in elaborate plans or prepar- 
ations before we set off on a trip for the perfectly simple reason 
that we are never entirely sure what animals we are going to find 
when we get there. If there is a secret in the sort of films we have 
made, it really lies in the way we have exploited the chances that 
presented themselves quite unexpectedly as we went along. 

One of the best examples of this cropped up in an early film we 
made for television on the life cycle of the crocodile. 

I had known about the crocodiles of the Murchison Falls for years. 
They used to breed along the headwaters of the Nile between the 
foot of the falls and Lake Albert and to-day are probably the biggest 
single colony of crocodiles in Africa. Elsewhere crocodiles have been 
hunted so intensively for thek skins that they have actually dis- 
appeared from many African rivers, but these crocodiles seem to have 
escaped the general massacre, and the foot of Murchison Falls re- 
mains a sort of crocodile paradise. 

The Falls themselves are one of the sights of Africa. This is the 
place where the great volume of the waters of the Nile surges 
through a cleft of rock so narrow that an Olympic or hare-brained 
athlete could jump across. The surrounding landscape is im- 
pressive, and the impact of the water as it hits the foot of the 
falls is tremendous. 

I had realised what a good subject these crocodiles would make 
for a film ever since 1952 when I first visited the Falls. On that 
occasion I had been almost to the foot of Murchison Falls in a small 
boat on the lower river. But although I had tried to film the croco- 
diles I found that the boat was not stable enough for my camera and 



the film had not been a great success. But I had kept the idea of 
filming the crocodiles at the back of my mind ever since, and at the 
beginning of 1958 began to think seriously of how we could 
do it. 

For the shots I wanted we clearly had to have a boat, but I knew 
by now that this would have to be a particular kind of boat and that 
I would have to build it myself. I experimented with several models 
first. The boat we wanted had to be extremely stable and extremely 
light, for in those days the present road to the Falls had not been 
built and everything would have to be transported by truck across 
rough country. 

Finally I designed a sort of light wooden raft that could be bolted 
across a couple of collapsible canvas dinghies, and that would take 
an outboard motor on the back. This took us only a few days to 
build and by the end of February we were on our way. 

When we approached the foot of the Falls, we spent some time 
camouflaging our craft by tying large bunches of reeds all round it. 
Then we fixed our camera and tripod aboard, started the motor, 
and chugged our way slowly up river to the foot of the Falls. 

It was a stately journey and surprisingly enjoyable despite the 
herds of hippos swimming all round us. They worried me more than 
I liked to admit for it needed only one of them to take exception to 
us or even to bump against us and our raft would have capsized. 
But apparently the hippos had other things to worry about and we 
were so well camouflaged that we were able to get to within five 
feet of some of the biggest fresh-water crocodiles I have seen in my 
life. They must have been between twelve and fourteen feet long, 
and were remarkably handsome. Their colours were superb and 
their size made them doubly impressive. 

But while we were filming them it occurred to me that we were 
seeing only one part of the story. With so many crocodiles about, 
the actual place where they laid and hatched their eggs could not be 
far away and I worked out that this should be about the season when 
the baby crocodiles made their appearance. 

So we beached our raft on a stretch of shore as far from any 
basking crocodiles as we could find, and went cautiously in search 
of their nests. 



This sounds rather more dangerous than it actually was, for the 
African crocodile, despite the stories that are often told about him, 
is not at his most aggressive on land. As long as you stay away from 
the edge of the water and keep your eyes open you are reasonably 
safe. Also the mother crocodile, although she stays near her eggs 
when they are about to hatch, has no particularly strong maternal 
feelings to outrage and generally does not show much inclination 
to defend her eggs. 

In fact, the role the mother crocodile played in hatching the 
eggs was one of the things we wanted to find out, and when a 
crocodile suddenly darted out in front of us from a bank of sand to 
plunge with a splash into the river, we walked over to investigate. 
It looked as if she had been digging; at any rate the sand had been 
disturbed to a depth of several inches and when I scooped a dozen 
handfuls of sand away I came upon the round hard surface of an 
egg. Michaela joined me and together, keeping a wary eye open 
just in case the mother crocodile decided to return after all, we dug 
up thirty-two crocodile eggs before we were finished. 

I think that the role the mother crocodile normally performs is 
to start digging them up just about the time they are due to hatch. 
The female crocodile we had disturbed must have been engaged in 
this when we first saw her. This digging is of course purely instinc- 
tive; it seems that its purpose, or rather its effect, is to give the baby 
crocodiles inside the eggs a gentle reminder that life is about to begin 
in earnest and that it is time they started breaking their way out into 
the world. The baby crocodiles are provided with an "egg tooth" at 
the end of their snouts to enable diem to break through the shell, 
and they have to get out of the egg by their own unaided effort. 
While Michaela was actually holding one of them, we both heard 
faint scratching sounds inside it. She held on to it gently, and then 
had the strange experience of having a young crocodile come to life 
in her hands. We had disturbed the eggs in much the same way as 
the mother would have done. This had given them the signal they 
had been waiting for and, quite rapidly, one after the other, the rest 
of the thirty-two eggs started to hatch. 

This hatching of the crocodiles was an exciting sight. It was 
wonderful to see how completely nature provided for the babies 



from the very instant they appeared. They were most elegant 
creatures, these second-old crocodiles, with their golden eyes and 
their gleaming olive and black skin. They issued from their eggs 
like young dragons and all their aggressiveness was there from the 
very start. They were about eight inches long but their first action 
after clambering out of the shell was to try to nip our fingers, and 
they would jump at us, mouths wide open, showing all their sharp 
little teeth. 

We had wondered how long it took them to adapt to life, but it 
was obvious that they were born with all the instinctive abilities they 
needed. From the moment they hatched they could cope quite 
adequately with all the problems confronting a crocodile for the 
remainder of his life. They could swim, they could fight, they could 
use their limbs perfectly and they could eat. 

With so much apparently in their favour, it seemed strange that 
the river and Africa itself, for that matter, were not overrun with 
crocodiles. Each female laid thirty or forty eggs in a season, so that 
here on this river bank there must have been thousands of these 
powerful, well-equipped young crocodiles hatching out every year. 
Yet we worked out that unless the numbers of crocodiles were to 
increase astronomically, only about one in fifty of them could grow 
into an adult animal. The numbers were not increasing, so what fate 
overtook the other forty-nine? 

We discussed this casually, but as we walked farther along 
the bank, and saw several nests recently opened and filled with 
broken shells, and yet could find no baby crocodiles alive, our 
curiosity became really aroused. We had splendid film material 
already on crocodiles and their young, but there was a mystery here 
which we wanted to solve, and which might add an entirely un- 
expected episode to our film. 

The first thing to do was to wait. By walking along the bank, 
we had disturbed the crocodiles and made it difficult to observe 
anything. If we were to find out what was happening to the baby 
crocodiles, we were going to need considerable patience. So we 
went away and came back early next morning with a portable 
canvas hide so that we could watch a nest while the eggs were 
hatching without any animals being aware we were there. 



Waiting in a hide like this with crocodiles wandering around 
within three or four feet of you can be uncomfortable. At close 
quarters crocodiles have a strange smell and this, coupled with the 
flimsiness of the hide, makes you wonder if this time you have not 
got just a little too close to your wild animals. But if you tried get- 
ting out you would be worse off still, and after a while, when the 
animals still take no notice of you, you stop worrying. 

We stayed cooped up in this hide the whole of one day. We had 
suspected that the baby crocodiles had some deadly enemy making 
short work of them as they hatched, but we soon saw that there was 
not one enemy but at least two. Right from the start the odds 
against a young crocodile surviving more than a day were appallingly 

It was Michaela who spotted the first of the animals preying on 
the young crocodiles. 

"Look," she said. "Those storks over there by the bank. What 
are they up to ?" 

I looked where she was pointing and saw half a dozen marabou 
storks picking away busily with their beaks at some tiling just beyond 
the reeds. These storks with their long beaks and the strange orange- 
coloured sack hanging from their throats perform much the same 
function for the wild life of Africa as the vultures. They are 
scavengers but they are not equipped to tear meat. So they clean 
up the refuse left behind when the other animals have made their 
kill. Now, through our binoculars, we could see that these six 
marabou storks were waiting like grim sentinels for the young 
crocodiles to hatch out. As soon as one did, there would be a swift 
peck and just for a moment we could see the crocodile squirming 
in the bird's beak. Then the stork would gulp and that would be 
one more young crocodile that would not live to grow fat on the 
fish carried down by the Murchison Falls. 

During the next day we got some dramatic close-up shots 
of the storks in action; but while we were watching them we 
gradually realised that they could not be accounting for all the 
crocodiles on their own. Several times we found the remains of the 
actual crocodile eggs with traces of yolk still inside. There was some 
other animal that was attacking them before they hatched. We did 



not know what it could be and once more the only way to find out 
was to wait. 

We realised what was happening when we saw a large green 
monitor lizard making his way along the sandy patches by the shore. 
At first he looked as if he was sniffing, much as a dog would. But 
this was not really the case. It was not his nose but his long snake- 
like tongue, incessantly flickering that was guiding him, and he was 
obviously using it to tell exactly where the eggs were buried. It was 
only then that we realised that these lizards were the killers we were 
looking for and that they were digging up the eggs before they 
were hatched. These lizards are up to five feet long and that 
day we filmed as many as four of them together raiding a nest. 
When they found an egg, they would all fight over it, and the 
lizard that won would hold the egg down with his claws and tear 
it open with his powerful jaws. They worked methodically, until 
the nest was empty, gorging themselves full on the squirming 
infants until they could hardly scuttle away. 

Put down like this in black and white, this whole scene probably 
sounds more unpleasant than it really was. Of course it was cruel 
and brutal, but then, in many ways, nature is cruel and brutal. In 
this case if it had not been, the river would have been overflowing 
with crocodiles. One was tempted to marvel that the forces of 
destruction should have been weighted so exactly against the croco- 
diles' chances of survival, with the result that the number of croco- 
diles in the river continue much the same as ever. 

Not long after we filmed our crocodiles, chance again presented 
us with another strange film sequence of animal life when we were 
least expecting it. We had been driving through the desolate 
wastelands of North Kenya on our way to Ethiopia. This sort of 
country has always appealed to me hot, empty, with little vegeta- 
tion and with blue ranges of mountains along the horizon. The 
sense of space and freedom here is uncanny. You can drive for days 
at a time and never meet a soul, and the idea of finding in these 
surroundings any animal scenes which would be good subject 
matter for our films seemed unlikely. Because of this I was 
puzzled when I noticed spurts of sand leaping a good foot into the 



air, from a small hole in the ground just ahead of the truck. I stopped 
the car and walked over. There were several holes, obviously 
entrances to burrows, but only one was spurting sand. Whatever 
the animal was that was inside must have been working away like 
mad, for the sand continued to spurt out like soil thrown up by a 
mechanical digger. 

Our driver, at the time, was a Somali, familiar with this desert 
area. He knew all about the holes and the spurting sand. This, he 
said, was the burrow of a small animal who lived underground and 
was found only in places like this, miles from anywhere. The 
creature was blind; he had absolutely no hair at all, and he never 
stopped digging with his teeth. Needless to say, Michaela and I 
were excited by this. Neither of us could think what animal this 
could be, so we obviously had to catch him and find out. 

This was rather easier than we had imagined. We used a pickaxe 
to cut off the animal's line of retreat in his burrow, and one of the 
oddest creatures I have ever seen poked his nose out of the hole. 

Our driver's description of the strange creature had been sur- 
prisingly accurate. It had no hak. It had enormous teeth, and its 
minute eyes were screwed up tight against the light of day. It was a 
species of desert mole-rat and we spent hours with it, marvelling at 
its incredible energy. For these "naked mole-rats" we found this 
to be their correct name spend their time burrowing through the 
earth, and they really do use their teeth as our driver described. As 
soon as we put our captive on the ground he would immediately 
start digging with neurotic frenzy. He struck me as one of the sad- 
dest, loneliest animals I had ever seen, living this frightened life in 
the middle of nowhere where his only instinct seemed to be to dis- 
appear from view. We timed him, and from placing him down 
on the ground it took exactly forty seconds for him to dig himself 
out of sight. 

He must have lived on roots and occasional insects and larvae 
that would exist even in this most inhospitable of landscapes, but I 
still cannot understand how he ever found enough to eat to sustain 
his amazing output of energy. However he did it he took his secret 
with him, for we decided that this was one animal that even Michaela 
would not be able to make into a pet. So when we had finished 



filming him we put him back by his burrow and watched as his 
first bursts of sand told us he was back where he so obviously wanted 
to be beneath the desert. 

Another subterranean animal we came upon by chance was an 
aardvark. This is a large species of ant-eater occurring in most of 
Central and South Africa. We were in the Transvaal filming weaver 
birds when we spotted this one. He was a strange, clumsy, slightly 
unprepossessing fellow, rather like a pig, but with large upright ears, 
a long nose and enormous claws on his feet. The name "aardvark," 
by the way, means "earthpig" in Dutch. 

We were so busy watching the birds we were filming that we did 
not notice him until he was nearly on top of us. Luckily he had 
something on his mind as well ants and he started digging for 
them practically in front of our hide. He made a great business of 
digging, lying on his sides and practically on his back to widen the 
hole, and he went on quite oblivious of us until it was really dark 
and we went back to camp. 

Next morning almost the first thing Michaela said when we 
woke up was, "Let's go and see what's happened to the aardvark." 
So we went back, and although we could find the hole he had made, 
there was no sign of him at all. But when I put my ear to the hole 
I could hear him scratching and digging away somewhere deep in 
the earth, so I said to Michaela, "We'll never get another chance 
like this to photograph an aardvark. Let's go back to camp for some 
shovels and dig him out." 

When I said this I had no idea just how far and how fast an 
aardvark could dig, for although we came back with three men, all 
of us armed with shovels, we spent nearly the whole day digging 
after him. Backwards and forwards we went, making trench after 
trench in the hope of cutting into his burrow. We moved moun- 
tains of earth. Finally, late in the afternoon, when we were nearly 
worn out and the whole place was trenched like a battlefield, we 
caught our aardvark. He was still digging away, about eight feet 
underground, when we unearthed him, his feet working like power- 
shovels; we had to grab him by the hind legs and tail, and it took 
the full strength of three men to pull him out of the hole. 

He fought like a demon, but we managed to get him wrapped in 



a tarpaulin and carried him back to camp. I thought there was no 
point in keeping him long. He was clearly not over-sociable, so I 
simply intended taking a few shots of him and then turning him 
loose. But when we turned him out of the tarpaulin he behaved in 
the most civilised manner imaginable. He made no attempt to 
fight. He gave no sign of attacking anyone. Instead he simply 
wandered round, sniffing disapprovingly at each of us in turn. 

I thought to myself, "This is very odd, but very interesting. 
I've never heard of a tame aardvark, but perhaps this one is the 
exception. Perhaps we can feed him and keep him and see what sort 
of pet he makes." 

So I tried preparing him some food, but he showed not the 
slightest interest in it. One day passed, then another. The aardvark 
would not eat, but neither would he leave us; he hung around the 
camp, still sniffing suspiciously at anyone or anything he saw. 
Michaela by this rime was hard at work collecting ants to try and 
tempt him to eat, but not even these would arouse his interest. 

Finally I rummaged in my suitcase, and found a complicated 
recipe someone had given me in South America for the feeding of 
ant-eaters. It called for a lot of cream, raw meat, a dozen eggs, and 
several other less common ingredients, and I spent a long time pre- 
paring it. I placed it hopefully in front of the aardvark, but not even 
this interested him. He sniffed at it once or twice, turned his back 
to it, ostentatiously kicked some dust into it and walked away. 

I was beginning to despair when suddenly he changed his mind, 
trotted back to the food and started to eat. 

At once I called to Michaela. "Look," I shouted, "look! The 
aardvark is eating. He likes the stuff. It's wonderful, we've a tame 
aardvark at last." 

"Yes," she shouted back, "we can take him home with us. We 
can take him to America. No one has ever seen a tame aardvark in 
America before. He'll be famous." 

But while we were so busy congratulating ourselves, the aard- 
vark stopped eating. It was almost as if he had understood exactly 
what we were saying. For he gave us one long disapproving look, 
turned around and again kicked dust into the mixture I had so 
painstakingly prepared, and then he trotted off, with never a back- 



ward glance, in a straight line for the forest. That was the last we 
ever saw of our tame aardvark. 

Luck, of course, is important in filming animals in the wild, but 
there are also times when you need a great deal of patience as well. 

This was particularly the case with our film of the leopard larder. 
For many years I had heard how the leopard, when he has made 
his kill, and has eaten all he can for the time being, drags the carcase 
of the animal up into a tree where it stays safe from the jackals and 
the vultures until he is hungry again. He is supposed to be able to 
drag up animals almost double his weight, and to make his "larder" 
thirty or forty feet above the ground. 

Although we had occasionally seen the remains of carcases 
where leopards had left them it was not uatil one summer, when 
Michaela and I were in the Serengeti, that we had a chance of 
filming a leopard storing its larder. We were waiting near a small 
stream when Michaela spotted a large object hanging in one of the 
topmost forks of a tree on the opposite bank. I looked at it carefully 
through the binoculars. It was not a large ants' nest or wasps' nest 
as I expected. As far as I could see, it was the remains of a large 
antelope and I had never heard of antelope climbing trees. Then I 
remembered the stories so often heard and began to wonder ex- 
citedly whether this could be the almost legendary leopard's 

"We spent the rest of that day watching the tree. Nothing 
happened. There was no sign of a leopard. It was the same the fol- 
lowing day. But on the third day when we turned up, rather later 
than before, we spotted a leopard' actually in the tree. He was on his 
way down and as soon as he saw us he leapt to the ground and sped 
away through the high grass. We waited most of the morning for 
him to reappear, but he did not. Instead a vulture swooped down 
and alighted about thirty yards from the tree on the body of a freshly 
killed antelope that we had not noticed in the high grass. Surely, I 
thought, this must bring the leopard back, if only to defend his 
kill. It did not, but the vulture did not have long to enjoy his meal. 
Another leopard, whose presence we had not suspected, appeared on 
a branch half-way up the tree and, keeping a cautious eye on us, 



came very slowly, hesitantly, down the trunk of the tree and chased 
the vulture away. 

Then for several minutes It was as if he could not make up his 
mind what to do with this dead antelope, and we were waiting 
anxiously for the moment to start our camera. After this long 
hesitation, the leopard suddenly grabbed the dead antelope by the 
neck and, with surprising ease, began dragging it to the foot of the 

We had only some forty feet of unused film in the camera and 
so now had to decide whether to let it run or to keep it for later. 
We have so often made the wrong decision, and run out of film just 
at the crucial point of a sequence. . . . We let the camera run on. 
Luckily the leopard had made up his mind. He braced himself with 
the body of the dead antelope still in his jaws and then, with an 
amazing leap, he was up into the tree. Several times he stopped to 
gain his breath and take a fresh hold on the heavy carcase, but each 
time he would continue climbing, hanging on to the tree with his 
four feet, the antelope hanging down between him and the tree. 

Once the leopard had finally got his animal safely wedged in a 
fork high up in the tree, our job became much easier. For it is a 
strange thing about the psychology of leopards that they behave 
very differently when they are in a tree from when they are on the 
ground. On the ground they are exceedingly nervous and difficult 
to photograph. They are also dangerous: their reaction is usually 
to run away but not always. It may well be to attack. 

Once he is up in a tree a leopard becomes almost a different 
animal. I am sure I know the reason for this. In a tree, the leopard 
believes himself to be invisible. He relaxes, feeling safe because of the 
difficulty anyone would have in spotting him, his coat so exactly 
matching the pattern of the sunlight on the leaves. Often a leopard 
will just lie all day stretched full length on a horizontal branch, his 
head peeping over and his paws hanging down on either side of the 
branch. I have been beneath a leopard like this, scarcely fifteen feet 
from him, and actually seen him looking down at me with the 
calmest face in the world: he was completely sure that I could not 
see him. 

As a result of this sense of security, the leopard we were watching 


One of the residents at our house in Kenya 

Recording an anteater and, below, the 'earth pig jr ctardvark, 
"a strange, clumsy, slightly unprepossessing fellow" 

Leopard. "On the ground -they are exceedingly nervous and 

difficult to photograph" 

"Once he is up a tree the leopard Relieves himself to be 

': * ' 

, : . " -f '/ ' ' " "' ^ 

Poached ivory and, above, the elephant with afoot 
almost severed by a poachers snare 

"Riding an Indian elephant is one of the stateliest experiences I know. 

\7<, *a </, L'/rlt 4i-n fli/if MMI fflpl vnw Jnwiin/iti> th(> Wftrld 

"Owr travels will go on. There fr still so much of the world to see . . ." 


now became much easier to film and we were able to approach 
closely and to photograph him as he ate. This was extremely 
'interesting: leopards are fastidious eaters; they have a peculiar 
habit of licking, at prolonged length, an area of their victim's skin 
before they bite into the flesh. Their tongues are rough enough to 
take off all the hair on this patch of skin, and they do this carefully, 
spitting out the hair as they go; we watched this leopard doing this 
for several minutes before he actually tore at the skin, made a hole in 
the carcase and began to eat. 

This carcase lasted him several days, and during this time, 
Michaela and I were the most devoted of audiences. We soon dis- 
covered that this leopard was a male and that he had a whole family 
hidden away in the tree. The leopard we had seen originally dis- 
appearing into the grass was his mate and they had three cubs. 

On several occasions we were able to watch the whole family 
eating forty feet above the ground, and although the cubs could not 
have been much more than a month old, we were interested to see 
that they were quite able to feed themselves. One of the things that 
struck us most was the great difference in the table manners of this 
leopard family and those of most of the lions we had filmed in the 
past. In comparison with the dainty leopards, lions are greedy and 
bad-mannered eaters; when a lion family turns up at a kill it is really 
a free-for-all, with frequent outbursts of impatience and temper. 

The leopard, on the other hand, seems to have a natural elegance 
in everything he does and a natural sense of poise and dignity. 
During the days we watched the leopard family eating from its 
larder, we never saw the slightest sign of unbecoming behaviour 
from the cubs, or of disharmony between their parents. 


25 Outlook for the Animals 

IT would be wrong if I gave the impression that we have liked 
everything we have seen while we have been in Africa. We love 
the country and we love to work in it. But the sights we have seen 
while we have been making our programmes have not all been 
peaceful. There have been times when we have been angry and 
times when we have felt helpless and times when we have been close 
to despair at the needless destruction of wild life that has been allowed 
to occur. 

There was the morning in January, for instance, three years ago, 
when we had been on safari in Uganda close to the Congo border, 
filming the herds of elephant as they crossed this great area of sav- 
annah country. We had started early. To the west we had a rare 
and magnificent view of Ruwenzori, the Mountains of the Moon, 
and although we drove for more than two hours through high, rich 
grass, we saw nothing except baboons and a few hyena. Of all the 
elephants that we had been told were in the area there was not a sign. 

This was mysterious. Game does not usually disappear like this 
without a cause, yet there was nothing we could see to account for it. 

It was just before noon that we spotted our first elephant of the 
day. It was a nearly full-grown cow, and as soon as we saw her we 
could tell there was something wrong with the way she was walking. 
We stopped about half a mile away from her and looked at her 
through the binoculars to see what was the matter. It was not 
difficult to see the trouble. About eighteen inches above the foot 
ran a thin steel wire encircling her leg. On die end of it trailed an 
eight-foot long wooden stake that she had somehow managed to 
pull out of the ground. But the wire had been drawn so tight that 



it had bitten deeply into the flesh and the whole leg had festered and 
swollen up like a balloon. 

It was intensely moving to see the way the elephant accepted this 
terrible injury and carried on, limping uncomplainingly after the 
herd that was probably miles ahead of her by now. 

We had never seen anything like this before, but Michaela and I 
both knew all too well what had caused the injury. For several 
months past we had been hearing reports about the steady increase 
of elephant poaching, not only in this area but almost everywhere in 
Africa where elephants occur. Even in the Tsavo National Park in 
Kenya, the number of elephants being killed each year by the 
poachers was beginning to run well into hundreds. Poaching was 
becoming a business. The poachers were being organised into gangs, 
sometimes operating in Land-Rovers from semi-permanent camps. 
They would set these murderous snares of theirs indiscriminately 
for any animals they could catch. 

We pulled close to within a hundred yards of the painfully 
limping elephant. 

"She's been snared, but it looks as if she s broken away," I said 
to Michaela. "That wire would have bitten through to the bone by 


"But what can we do to help her?" asked Michaela. 

"Nothing now," I replied. "Were too late. She could never 
recover from an injury like that. The leg is rotted. She must have 
been like this for weeks." 

As I spoke, it was almost as if the elephant heard what I said. 
She stopped, faced us and trumpeted forlornly. For once I wished 
that we carried a gun with us. At least we could have put her out of 
her agony. As it was the only thing we could do was to drive back 
as fast as we could to the game warden's headquarters and get him 
to do it. 

This took us most of the afternoon and it was nearly dark before 
we had found him and caught up with the elephant again. By now 
she had dragged herself on for about half a mile from where we had 
left her and then stopped. 

She did not bother to trumpet when she saw us this time, but 
stood facing us passively. The ranger took his time over the shot 



and made a clean kill of it. When he fired she sank to her knees and 
died without a murmur. 

I hate the death of any animal. Normally, however, you reason 
with yourself and realise that you have to accept the facts of death. 
Death is one of the laws of the wild and not something to get 
sentimental about. 

Tliis was something different. The waste and the appalling 
suffering of the animal disgusted us. We drove back with the game 

" Is that a job you often have to do ? " I asked him. 

He nodded, " There's always elephant poaching going on 
round here." 

" But don't you ever catch the men who do it ? " asked Michaela, 

"Of course we do, although it's getting more difficult these days 
than it used to be. The poachers are arming themselves now and 
they're much better organised than they were. Only last week one 
of my own men was shot in the leg by a poacher. He was lucky to 
be shot in the leg. He will recover. Lucky that was all it was." 

"But what do you do with the poachers when you do catch 
them?" insisted Michaela. 

The ranger looked as if this was a question he had heard many 
times before. 

"Well," he said, "you can put them in gaol, of course, but that 
doesn't do anyone much good. The Africans don't particularly 
object to a few month's free board at the Government's expense. 
It doesn't bring the animals back and it certainly doesn't turn the 
poacher into an animal lover." 

"To tell you the truth," he went on, "the men I'm bitter about 
are not really the poachers. After all, they're local men. They've 
always hunted the game and they take a lot of risks I wouldn't like 
to. The people someone really should clamp down on are the 
merchants and the middlemen on the coast who finance the poachers 
and buy the ivory from them. If there was a bit more drastic action 
against them from above, we might start getting somewhere." 

This conversation with the game ranger made a great impression 
on us both. If the Government was slow to act about poaching, we 
at least had the chance of making the people who watched our 



programmes aware of what was happening. That very night we 
decided to shelve our plans to film the rest of the elephant herds. 
Instead we would make a full-scale documentary film on the 
poaching of Africa's wild life. 

It was not a particularly pleasant film to make. During the 
weeks that followed we saw sights too gruesome ever to show 
to any television audience. There were rhinos within twenty miles 
of Nairobi that had been speared to death and left rotting for the 
vultures. All the poachers had wanted had been the horns that 
they hacked out and sold to one of the local merchants engaged in 
the perfectly legal trade of selling rhino horn as a theoretical aphro- 
disiac to the Far East. 

We saw zebras and wildebeeste that had been snared with steel 
wire, hamstrung, and then left several days to die. All the poachers 
could be bothered to take would be the wildebeeste tails to make into 
flywhisks that sell, again perfectly legally, to the tourists in the gift 
shops of Nairobi for a few shillings. 

Worst of all were the completely useless deaths we encountered. 
Snaring is easy, but it is also indiscriminate, and the snares were 
placed so widely that for every animal caught that was any use to 
the poachers, there must have been dozens that were not. These 
would just be left where they were female gazelles caught and left 
to die of starvation, their young waiting patiently beside them; 
warthogs and buffalo that had suffered a similar fate; rotting car- 
cases too far gone even to identify. Once we found a giraffe that 
was still alive but had had a front leg torn off by a snare. 

The snares' worst victims of all were not the animals that they 
killed, but those that managed to escape and survive. Twice during 
these weeks Des Bartlett came upon elephants that had been caught 
in snares by their trunks. One had broken away and was somehow 
managing to exist with only half a trunk, by grazing the grass on 
his knees. The other was less fortunate. When Des first spotted 
him he was floundering in a river, and he watched him actually 
feeding on floating weeds. This was all he could manage to get, for 
an elephant relies almost completely on his trunk for feeding and Des 



saw that this elephant's trunk must have been caught in a snare 
for although it looked intact, it was paralysed and just hung 

I estimate that to-day there remains at the most only a tenth of 
the game that was in Africa before the First World War, perhaps 
much less than a tenth. The numbers are still declining, and still we 
are doing nothing to teach the African why he should behave better 
than we have with organised hunting over the years. 

I felt all this even more strongly a few months later over the last 
hippos of Lake Baringo. Baringo is a small lake by African standards. 
About twenty-five miles long, it lies to the north of Nakuru in 
particularly wild country. Unlike Nakuru, Elementeita, Hanning- 
ton and Magadi, the big salt-lakes of the Great Rift Valley, Lake 
Baringo has fresh water. In this respect, it is like Lake Naivasha 
and, like Naivasha, it used to support a large and flourishing popula- 
tion of hippo. After the war these hippo and the rest of the game 
that used to surround the two lakes began to be seriously threatened 
by indiscriminate shooting and spearing. By the time the hippo 
were declared Royal Game five years ago, the hippo of both 
Baringo and Naivasha had been brought close to extinction. 

In the whole of Lake Baringo, there could scarcely have been 
more than a hundred hippo left; and about this time another danger 
came to threaten this pitiful remnant. For several seasons drought 
or scanty rainfall brought disaster to the surrounding area which 
had already been ravaged by overgrazing and injudicious burning 
of the grass and bush. Two years ago the hippos had to live through 
a period of several months of virtual starvation, and last year con- 
ditions were even worse. 

Soon the hippos were so weak that they could scarcely stagger 
a few hundred yards from their lake, and within that limited radius 
they would wander searching for the dry seed pods that fell from 
the thorn trees and that were all that was left to give them the 
illusion of food. 

Michaela and I heard about the plight of the hippos when we 
were staying with our friend, David Roberts, who has the fishing 
concession of Lake Baringo, and lives there with his family on the 
western shore. He had been particularly affected by the plight of 



eight hippos that had lived for a long time on the edge of the lake 
within sight of his house. 

As the weeks passed without sign of rain, these eight hippos had 
become weaker and weaker. At night they used to wander through 
the remains of his parched-up garden in search of food and soon they 
became so thin that their ribs showed and they staggered as they 
walked. Instead of disappearing out of sight in the lake during the 
day, as these animals usually do, they would simply lie exhausted 
on the bank, a sitting target for any African hunter who cared to 
take them. 

Finally, when David found the bull of this small herd actually in 
the porch of his house, sniffing at the remains of the food he had left 
out for the dog, he decided that the time had come to make some 
attempt to save these eight hippos. 

Hay was the only food that he could get for them in sufficient 
quantities and this he put out. To start with the hippos were clearly 
puzzled by the new food. The first night they nuzzled it and 
scattered most of it along the shore. But they ate a little and, within 
a few days, they were eating three to four full bales a night. 

The hippos began to put on weight again, and although they still 
looked emaciated, they clearly had a chance of surviving until the 
rains came. Their favourite food of all was fine lucerne hay, with 
star grass hay and oat hay running it a close second. At first they 
would also accept Rhodes grass hay and ordinary wheat straw, but 
then they became fussier about the food they would take and tended 
to leave this uneaten. As a result, David was having to spend more 
than he could afford on good quality hay to keep the eight hippos 
alive, and Michaela and I offered to help by starting a small fund for 
the hippos of Lake Baringo. The Wild Life Society headed the 
subscription list with a gift of ^50 and although we received con- 
tributions from as far afield as the United States, most of the money 
came from conservationists we knew in Kenya. Within a few weeks 
we had enough money to guarantee the hippos' food for as long as 
the drought lasted. 

Soon we saw a remarkable difference in the habits of the hippos. 
They began to develop confidence in people. Normally, hippos 
spend most of the day well offshore and land only at night, but these 


soon started lying in the shallow water during the day, not more 
than twenty or thirty yards from the men loading the fish into 
David's freezing plant. 

In the evening they would come out of the water, start eating 
long before dark, and stay out until day-break. One evening I 
actually saw David pat one of the hippos on the back as it waddled 
past on the way to die house for the day's ration. All this was very 
satisfactory except for one thing that began to worry David as the 
drought went on. 

He knew the Africans well who lived around the lake and he 
understood how the drought was hitting them. They were begin- 
ning to go hungry too, and he knew that the longer the drought 
lasted the more of a temptation these nearly tamed hippos would 
become. He knew just how serious this danger was when he saw 
one of the hippos with a spear sticking out of its back. It was not a 
bad wound and David was able to get the spear out. 

But the day came when David had to leave home for a week. 
When he returned he found that the big old bull had been speared 
to death in his absence. A few weeks later, another followed. Then 
a female was killed and her baby caught in the mud and choked to 
death. Within a matter of weeks, the last of the eight hippos we 
thought we had saved had been killed, and the animals exterminated 
from one more African lake. 

Ultimately several of the Africans responsible for the killings 
were arrested and imprisoned for a while, but, in this case, the 
sentence struck me as being almost as pointless as it was unfair. 

Despite all our opportunities we have failed to teach the African to 
value the wild life of his country. 

Take first the continuance of licensed hunting in East Africa, 
which seems to me such arrant stupidity at the moment. Quite 
apart from any question of cruelty to the animals, it makes the 
sheerest nonsense of any attempt to teach the African to value the 
game of his own country. As long as the white man is allowed to 
hunt, any attempt to suppress the poacher will always appear mere 
hypocrisy in African eyes. 

Consider next the fact that for the ordinary African villager the 



two tilings that matter more than anything else are land and cattle. 
Wild animals, not surprisingly, appear to him as a threat to both 
and he has always been encouraged in this attitude by the wholesale 
campaigns of game extermination which the Europeans in Africa 
have carried on under one pretext or another over great areas. 

In Uganda, for instance, countless zebra and antelope have been 
methodically destroyed on the grounds that they are dangerous 
carriers of sleeping sickness. The whole theory behind this has been 
disproved by every reputable scientist who has studied the subject, 
but tke slaughter still goes on. The wild animals killed in various 
areas in the last ten years for so-called "tsetse control" run into 
hundreds of thousands. 

Because of such examples when European authorities do try to 
set aside an area for the protection of game it is not surprising if 
Africans regard it simply as a means of robbing them of land on 
which they should be allowed to settle themselves. Many times I 
have heard the National Parks referred to as land stolen from the 
African and the preservation of animals is usually regarded as a 
perverse white man's hobby. 

As a result, the herdsmen and the African settlers have felt 
themselves within their rights in moving into many of the areas of 
the National Parks and hard pressed local administrators have all too 
often accepted this way out of the problem of providing more 
land for an ever-growing population. In this way, whole areas have 
been irretrievably lost. The Ngorongoro Crater where Al Klein 
and I watched some of the largest game herds in Africa less than 
twenty years ago is now being settled by a steady influx of Masai 
nomads and their cattle. The crater is still officially a "Conservation 
Area" but it is difficult to see what conservation is being practised 
there or what chance the animals really have of surviving for long. 

Worst of all, the land itself is changing and turning against the 
wild life as it is in so many other parts of the world. The cattle and 
the goats increase each year. The sparse land becomes overgrazed. 
Grass dies. Trees are felled. The thin soil of the bush erodes even 
more quickly than the soil did in the American Middle West, and 
like the Middle West, much of Africa is already rapidly turning into 
a dust bowl. 



The world is littered with deserts of man's own making and un- 
less something drastic is done soon, most of the East African plain 
will soon join them. The great drought we recently experienced was 
a warning. More recently still we had flooding on a greater scale 
than ever before in Kenya's history; still worse is to be expected 
now that the balance between soil, climate and forests is being so 
remorselessly destroyed. 

Clearly, in the end, it will be not just the wild life of Africa that 
will suffer; but it is the wild life that goes first. Almost mysteriously 
the animals disappear. In die area we see from our house for instance, 
there has been no serious poaching or hunting but the herds of game 
we used to watch crossing the plain towards the Ngong hills come 
no longer. The wild animals near our house are becoming rarer 
each year. One day they will simply cease to be. 

What is happening in Africa is happening to wild life through- 
out the world. The threat is universal. After a lifetime in contact 
with the wild, I know it is no use underestimating the forces we are 
up against. If all protection were to cease I would give the giraffe a 
couple of years at the most. After that it would become extinct. 
The rhinoceros might last five years the lion just a little longer. A 
remnant of the elephants would retreat to the forests and survive 
there for a period. The rest of them would perish, and with them 
would go the buffalo, the zebra, the wildebeeste and the antelope 
until the plains of Africa became empty of the life they had 

If this is to be prevented, man must step in now and step in fast. 
A crash programme is needed. In the short run we must have a 
first-aid policy to save the animals that are most gravely threatened. 
The game laws must be enforced, hunting finally stopped and the 
men behind the poachers dealt with as rigorously as they obviously 
could be. 

At the same time, this cannot be successful without an effective 
campaign to convince the Africans who are taking over their 
governments that here, in their animals and wild life, lie some of the 
most valuable natural resources their lands possess. Wild animals are 
the capital of Africa. What the mountains are for Switzerland, wild 
life could be for Africa, and if the tourist traffic were organised here 



with a fraction of the efficiency with which it has been organised in 
Switzerland, it could be the salvation of many an impoverished area 
of Africa. 

The enthusiasm with which wild life programmes like ours on 
television have been received outside Africa shows that there is a 
potential market of immense proportions for tourism to Africa. 
With chartered flights and properly organised camps and hotels, 
Africa could come within the reach of ordinary people and the 
country is still large enough to absorb a heavy flow of tourists with- 
out being spoiled in the process. 

At the same time, the game will need intelligent control as well 
as protection. Where certain animals are overgrazing and destroying 
the habitat, their numbers will have to be culled. Where others are 
failing to maintain their numbers it may be necessary to introduce 
new strains from elsewhere, as has already been done successfully in 
South Africa where several areas are being re-populated with white 
and black rhino many years after these animals had been extermin- 
ated there by the hunters. 

Similarly in time of drought and famine the animals will have to 
rely on the help of man if they are to survive, while the continuation 
of particularly threatened species may be possible only by establish- 
ing breeding colonies of animals under carefully controlled conditions 
in countries where they have never been known before. In time we 
might see a colony of rhino living in Australia or of elephants in 
South America. 

I speak about East Africa because it is here that I see the danger 
to wild life at first hand. But the same forces are threatening wild 
life throughout the world. Because of this I am convinced that the 
real hope for the animals lies, not in any single plan but in the revolu- 
tion that has been taking place in the attitude of people throughout 
the world to wild life. Animal conservation is no longer just a 
cause for a few enthusiasts. World opinion has finally become 
concerned and I believe that the most important thing I have done 
in my life was to become the first to put the case for wild life 
on television. 

Recently I was lecturing for the National Geographical Society in 



Washington on the need for animal conservation, and the organisers 
seemed very pleased when seven thousand people turned up to the 
two performances I gave. But I worked it out afterwards that if 1 
had wanted my message to reach the same number of people that 
see a single one of our television programmes in England, Germany, 
France, Canada and the rest of the twenty-six countries where we 
regularly appear, I should have had to lecture twice a day for the 
next twenty years. 

There are grave drawbacks to television and I would be the last 
to underestimate them, but the mass wave of sympathy and 
understanding it has produced for wild life during the last ten years 
must certainly be counted among its positive benefits. Even the 
popular idea of a "wild animal" is changing. Instead of being 
regarded as things to be fought and destroyed, wild animals are 
beginning to be thought of as creatures to be observed and under- 
stood. When young people think of a lion to-day they associate 
it with a camera rather than with a gun. 

For me there has been a particular excitement at being involved 
in this change. When I started my career such a swing of public 
opinion was inconceivable. The early films I made could only be a 
record of a world that I believed was doomed. Our television 
programmes are propaganda for a world I know now can still be 

Another reason why I am grateful for television is that after a 
lifetime enjoying animals, it has given me the chance of turning this 
strange, apparently haphazard life of mine to a definite purpose 
the preservation of the world I believe in. For if there is one thing 
my life does prove it is the supreme satisfaction that the untamed 
parts of the world offer to those who would understand them. I 
have had more than my share of the pleasures our civilisation can 
offer, but the moment I always look forward to most is when the 
aircraft door slams behind us and we know that we are finally off on 
a new expedition. 

The sense of peace and calm is complete. There are no more 
telephones to ring, no more schedules to arrange and however 
difficult or unpleasant an expedition may appear at times, it always 
seems to offer this strange peace of mind that I have never been able 



to find in the life of the city. You meet each problem as it arises. If 
your truck gets stuck in a hole you have nothing else to worry about 
until you have got it out again, and it is the same with every other 
difficulty you encounter. 

The real worries of life only start when you are back in civilisa- 

Of course, I cannot deny that I have been attracted by the excite- 
ment of wild animals quite as much as any hunter. But I would 
claim that it is far more thrilling to film animals than to shoot them. 
There are the hours of long stalking through the grass. There is the 
additional excitement of knowing that you are not armed and that 
your safety depends purely on yourself and your knowledge of the 
animal you are watching. There is the fact that to get the picture 
you really want you must approach far closer than any marksman 
who merely wants to kill. 

But when you do succeed, the satisfaction of filming a wild 
animal well is unbeatable. If you had shot it, you would have its 
corpse to look at and the knowledge that the earth was that much 
poorer. Instead you have not destroyed you have created. The 
film you have made is the best possible trophy you ever could bring 
back and if you value such tilings the best proof of your personal 

For me there have always been other satisfactions as well. 
From the start I have always enjoyed the technical problems of 
filming and sound recording which provide something of an outlet 
for what inventive skills I possess. I enjoy the detail of arranging an 
expedition and get back my old schoolboy enthusiasm for travel 
whenever we set out on safari. And I am still happiest when I am 
with animals, particularly if I can tame them or live close to them in 
the wild. 

Against this, I consider that I have definite defects for the sort of 
life I have lived. I am incurably lazy and always have to drive my- 
self to accomplish anything. I also think of myself as a slow sort of 
person. I am obstinate rather than quick-witted and feel that I have 
inherited more than my share of my Flemish ancestors' mental 
solidity. For a medium like television this is a great disadvantage, 
and unlike Michaela I have always disliked the idea of appearing live 



before the cameras, although when I have done so the result has not 
always been as disastrous as I expected. 

Perhaps it is because of this mentality of mine that I have always 
admired the exact opposite in people and in animals. The one 
quality I never cease to envy is complete and effortless excellence. 
Acrobats, jugglers, professional billiard players or accomplished 
public speakers, for instance, fill me with almost childish jealousy 
and much of my feeling for animals comes from an instinctive 
admiration for their superb efficiency. I love the cheetah for his 
speed, the baboon for the casual grace with which he can climb, 
and whenever I see a human ballet I feel an irrepressible desire to 
laugh because I cannot help comparing its performance with that 
of the gibbons, that can leap forty feet without the slightest 
apparent effort. 

When I think back over my life, I can never remember a time 
when I planned the shape it was to take. The only principle I have 
ever worked to has always been to do whatever interested me at the 
time. I have gambled quite consciously with myself and with my 
career, and I am lucky that the gamble has paid off. But in case any- 
one feels like following my example, it is only fair that I should give 
the same warning that I always give to any new cameramen who 
join me. I tell them that if they come with me they will enjoy them- 
selves. They will savour the satisfaction that wild life has to give, 
but they will also change. For once they have tasted a wild exist- 
ence, they will never be really satisfied to settle down to the life 
of the cities again. The canker of restlessness will be within them 
for the rest of their lives. Only in the wild will they ever be really at 
peace with themselves. 

I realise now that this happened to me over thirty years ago 
when I first saw Bali. I have moments of wondering if I should 
regret the settled, comfortable life I might have led as a research 
scientist, but I console myself with the thought that if I had stayed 
on in my laboratory instead of taking the gamble that I have been 
living ever since, I would have led a life that hundreds of other 
people could have lived equally well. 

Instead I have lived a life that, whatever its faults, has been 
unique. Even during the last few months, when I have been trying 



to cut down on commitments and shut myself away in the house to 
work on this book, the unexpected has kept cropping up to give me 
an excuse to get away from my desk. Last October, when the 
drought ended and we had finished most of the filming for our cur- 
rent television series, I thought I would have some time to myself. 
But no sooner had the rains come in earnest than I found the roof 
leaking extensively over the dining-room. Such things take on the 
proportions of major problems in Africa. It took us all several 
days to deal with it. Then when the rains continued more heavily 
than anyone could remember, bringing widespread floods to Kenya, 
Michaela and I were invited to film the R.A.F. relief operations 
bringing supplies to beleaguered African villagers. 

I had planned to have this book finished by Christmas to give 
me time to think about an exciting new venture "Animals," the 
colour magazine that I am editing. But I write slowly. There 
has been all our routine work of scripting and editing for our next 
television programme to do at the same time, and with so many 
delays I found that I had to finish the last few chapters after our 
journey to Barotseland at the end of February. Neither of us wanted 
to miss the unique chance of filming the spectacular Kuomboka 
ceremony when the chief of the Barotses is rowed down river by 
his warriors in his great canoe of state. 

But now that this book is finished I have the feeling that it only 
skims the surface of my life. If we were not leaving for Suriname in 
a few days I would go on until I had written a book twice the size, 
covering our safaris and adventures of the last few years. There 
were our two safaris to South Africa. There was our trip to the 
Hadhramaut, that strange, parched land where Arabia meets the 
Gulf of Aden. And there was our highly eventful recent safari to the 
Far East. If I had time, I would describe the honey bear who became 
our constant companion on that trip, and the snake farm outside 
Bangkok where Michaela and I thought our last hour had come. 
But a book must end somewhere. Suriname cannot be post- 
poned. And when we are back from Suriname . . . our travels 
will still go on. There is still so much of the world to see and so 
many of its animals to record. 



One of the first things I learned as a traveller was never to see all 
of a country on one visit, but to leave one part untried to provide an 
incentive to return. I have visited Italy many times, but I have never 
been to Venice. Purposely I have hoarded this as somewhere special 
for the future and have always looked forward to the day when I will 
actually go to Venice for the first time. 

As with Italy, so with the rest of the world.